17 January 2018

Historian reveals identities of Mafia informants

The FBI makes every effort to hide the identities of its confidential underworld informants. Unlike the famous Joe Valachi and other Bureau cooperating witnesses, who exchange public testimony for government protection, confidential informants continue in their dangerous underworld roles during their furtive feeding of information to investigators. So, the FBI's secrecy regarding informants is vital... to a point.

For some reason, the Bureau insists on keeping informants' identities confidential even long after the informants have passed away, through natural or "unnatural" causes.

In reports, the FBI refers to its informants only by code numbers. Before any reports are made available to the public, revealing details about the informants are deleted. But subtle clues to their identities may remain within the text.

http://mafiahistory.us/rattrap/rattrap-idx.html
For years, Toronto-based crime historian Edmond Valin has been combing through publicly available information, including declassified files of the FBI, for these clues. He has shown a remarkable ability to discover the identities of some of the most important and most secret Mafia turncoats by comparing seemingly insignificant details from different documents.

Valin has consented to allow the American Mafia history website to publish a collection of his ground-breaking articles online. These articles, grouped under the heading of "Rat Trap," deal with informants from major U.S. Mafia organizations, including the Chicago Outfit, the Philly Mob, the Bonanno Crime Family and the Gambino Crime Family. Six articles are in the collection at this time, and more are on the way.

Valin's often shocking conclusions are painstakingly defended through document citations (many of the related documents can be accessed online through links provided in the articles' endnotes).

Visit Edmond Valin's Rat Trap articles.

10 January 2018

Criminal Curiosities: Twelve Remarkable reprobates you've probably never heard of.



Out now for the Amazon Kindle.


As a crime writer with a long-time interest in crime's more unusual aspects, I often try to find some of its more overlooked stories. Who needs yet another rehash of Jack the Ripper or JFK reshuffling old evidence while seldom offering anything new? Apart from accountants at publishing companies wanting bestsellers to boost their quarterly balance sheets, at any rate?

All walks of life have their pioneers, those who stand out as the first, last or only example in thier field. Crime is no exception., but crime's stand-outs are seldom as widely acknowledged as, say, the first Moon landing or the discovery of the New World. It's time that changed. Criminal Curiosities is a small step toward that.

Some readers will have heard of William Kemmler or Herbert Rowse Armstrong. Kemmler was, after all, the first convict ever to be legally electrocuted. Armstrong was (and remains, the UK having abolished capital punishment) the first and only British lawyer to be hanged for murder.

But who was the first convict to face the guillotine? Why were legendary figures Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse so closely entwined with William Kemmler and he with them? Whose murder trial saw the victim's body transported to the scene of the crime, then used in a live reconstruction in front of the jury? And how on earth did Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren get away with trading a fake Vermeer for 137 genuine paintings (today worth around $60 million with, of all people, Gestapo founder and Luftwaffe commander Herman Goering? 

You probably don't know. Criminal Curiosities is where you find out.

They're all singular in their own particular way. All have a fascinating tale to tell of their own misdeeds and how they sometimes forever changed the world around them. All of them are often overlooked and some are barely historical footnotes, if that.

Criminal Curiosities is currently available for the Amazon Kindle.






09 January 2018

James Wells, America's worst botched execution.



(Wikipedia).


Call it whatever you want. Old Sparky, Old Smokey, Sizzlin’ Sally or Gruesome Gertie, the electric chair has always had a troubled history. From its very first use (executing murderer William Kemmler on August 6, 1890) it’s been dogged by failures, mechanical and human

Initial problems involved untried equipment, new ideas and inexperienced executioners. Limited knowledge of inflicting humane electrocution spawned a series of experimental executions. Successive inmates endured different numbers of electrodes, different voltages applied for different durations, electrodes placed on different body parts and so on.

In 1892 Charles McElvaine’s hands were placed in tubs of brine to conduct the voltage. He suffered horribly before the now-standard head and leg electrodes were used instead. Malfunctioning or ill-prepared equipment (in the case of Willie Francis and so many others) has also caused horrific scenes in America’s death chambers.

What happened at the former Arkansas State Penitentiary in Little Rock (since demolished and replaced by public buildings) on March 10, 1922 made Kemmler’s suffering look comparatively minor. Murderer and escapee James Wells endured perhaps the worst-botched execution in American history.

Wells, born in 1904 and hailing from Drew County, was an African-American farmhand. Convicted of murdering white Arkansas farmer Peter Trenz (his former employer) on May 18, 1921 Wells was never likely to avoid Old Sparky. He was a poor, black defendant convicted of murdering a respectable white victim. In those less-enlightened times, many whites considered that reason enough.


(Arkansas Department of Corrections).

Arkansas introduced electrocution in 1913, the State also taking over executions from individual counties. During the chair’s lengthy tenure Arkansas executed 195 prisoners. Of these two were Native American men, one white woman, one Hispanic male and 57 white males. The rest, 143 men, were all African-American. Warden Luther Castling had resigned rather than electrocute the ten men then waiting to die. His successor Warden Dempsey didn't have similar qualms.


(From the Daily Ardmorite). 

Aside from being poor, black and convicted of murdering a white when lynching and legal execution was equally likely for that crime, Wells hadn’t exactly done himself any favors after his conviction. On December 9, 1921 condemned killer, bank robber and serial escaper Tom Slaughter managed a spectacular escape from ‘The Walls’ and Death Row itself.

Overpowering guards, Slaughter took the Warden’s family hostage, escaping in Warden Dempsey’s car. Dempsey, whose job it had been to carry out executions, soon found himself unemployed. That in turn caused an excruciating death for Wells.

Slaughter had invited the other condemned inmates to join him. Wells, believing his appeal would almost certainly fail, escaped with him. Slaughter survived only a day before being shot by fellow-escaper Jack Howard. Howard claimed to have escaped only to help bring Slaughter to justice, a claim accepted by Arkansas authorities. Howard was never charged over Slaughter’s death, being pardoned and released several years later.

Wells, soon recaptured, returned to Death Row. He’d escaped on December 9, been recaptured within days and his appeal was denied on Christmas Eve, 1921. A foolish time to attempt escape and humiliate the Arkansas justice system. Not much of a Christmas present, either. That said, nothing can justify what happened at his execution.

On March 10, 1922 all the usual preparations had been made. All that remained was for the executioner to do his job competently and professionally. With Warden Dempsey gone, the new executioner was an Englishman, a former car salesman whose sole qualification and experience consisted of having (as he himself put it) taken ‘a correspondence course in electricity.’ The State of Arkansas had entrusted a delicate, potentially dangerous task to a man utterly lacking expertise, training or experience. It was suggested at the time that the nameless volunteer arrived drunk.


(Arkansas Department of Corrections).


Wells entered the penitentiary’s death chamber singing a hymn. He was still singing as he sat in Old Sparky and the straps and electrodes were applied. He remained singing right up until the executioner threw the switch. As the Dallas Express described it:

“Going to the chair singing, Wells continued to sing until the first charge of electricity was sent through his body.”

Wells was certainly silenced by the first jolt, but he wasn’t dead. Either the first jolt was far too brief or the voltage far too low. Still alive, Wells needed another. Shocked again, he remained alive. A third jolt was called for.

The witnesses began looking uncomfortable. Inmates were supposed to sit down quietly, say their last words and die. A second jolt might be delivered to make sure, but seldom more than that. The executioner shocked Wells repeatedly. Repeatedly the current crackled, doctors checking between jolts. Wells simply wouldn’t die.

After the first jolts had failed horrified witnesses began leaving the execution chamber. With every unsuccessful jolt the remaining witnesses’ disgust grew. By the eleventh jolt everyone involved just wanted it to end. For the twelfth time the switch was thrown, the current crackled and Wells leapt against the restraints. The power was shut off while doctors checked yet again.
James Wells was finally dead.

As the Dallas Express described it, the execution succeeded at:

“The twelfth attempt, according to witnesses, after terrible suffering on the part of the boy.”

The disaster was publicised in Arkansas, Utah, California, Texas, Tennessee and numerous other States where executions, especially of African-Americans, seldom garnered more than a line or two.
Even the New York Tribune covered it, stating:

‘Wells was examined by the State physicians who pronounced him still alive. Another charge of electricity was sent through his body, with the same result. Witnesses began to leave the death room and only a few were still present when the last charges were sent through his body and Wells finally was pronounced dead. Fully twenty minutes were consumed in putting him to death.’


(www.executedtoday.com).

Had Arkansas employed an expert like New York’s Robert Greene Elliott, the nightmarish exhibition would almost certainly have never happened. Elliott performed 387 executions in six States, perfecting the ‘Elliott Technique’; 2000 volts for three seconds, 500 volts for 57 seconds,, 2000 volts for another three seconds, 500 for 57 seconds and a final burst of 2000 volts. Very rarely did he need to deliver more than one cycle.


A bitter irony that, as his executioner, Wells couldn’t have been in safer hands.







Sources:

www.executedtoday.com

The Daily Ardmorite, Oklahoma.

Arkansas Department of Corrections.

The New York Tribune.

The Dallas Express

www.deathpenaltyusa.org

Gruesome Spectacles; Botched executions and America's Death Penalty, Austin Sarat, 2014, Stanford Law Books.

08 January 2018

Rude guests pump bullets into their host


On this date in 1929: Chicago underworld leader and olive oil merchant Pasqualino "Patsy" Lolordo, forty-three, was shot to death by visitors to his apartment, 1921 W. North Avenue. 

Lolordo (left), scene of murder (right). Chicago Daily Tribune

Lolordo welcomed three guests at about three o'clock in the afternoon and shared drinks and conversation with them in the livingroom for an hour.

Joe Aiello (left),
Lena Lolordo (right)
At four o'clock, his thirty-eight-year-old wife Lena, tending to the ironing in the apartment kitchen, heard gunshots and ran to the livingroom. She brushed past the visitors on her way to her fallen husband. The visitors left quickly and quietly. Lena grabbed a velvet pillow and placed it under the dying man's head.

Lolordo succumbed to gunshot wounds to his skull, neck and shoulders before an ambulance arrived. Police found an empty .38-caliber pistol on the building stairway and another near Lolordo's body. Three half-filled drinking glasses sat on a livingroom table. A broken glass was in Lolordo's lifeless hand.

Police determined that Lolordo was unarmed when he was shot, though they found a sawed-off shotgun in his bedroom. Eighteen men, believed to be members of the Joe Aiello bootlegging gang, were viewed by Lena Lolordo, but she recognized none of them as her husband's visitors. Later, she picked out a photograph of Aiello himself, saying he was one of the gunmen.

Several months earlier, Lolordo had succeeded the murdered Antonio Lombardo as leader of Chicago's gangland-linked Unione Siciliana organization.


Lolordo death certificate
See also: 

07 January 2018

Indiana's Policewomen in the Dillinger Saga

Stories about cops and robbers usually feature -- you guessed it, the robber!  In the Great Depression era of the desperado, two women of  state law enforcement made their own imprint.  They each had problems with their public image.  One survived the era with her career intact.  The other was forced into early retirement.

In the days predating large-scale enrollment of women in policing, there was little upon which to base an opinion.  Female police officers generated reactions ranging from the good, the bad, to the ugly -- mostly the bad and the ugly.  Take for example these two women of Indiana.  Both served their official duties during the zenith of the Midwest Crime Wave, facing the boldest desperadoes of the time.  Both of these women stepped into positions that required bravery and a revolutionary, trail-blazing attitude.

Fingerprint expert Marie Grott of the Indiana State Police and Sheriff Lillian Holley of Lake County, stood out among the state police of the John Dillinger man-hunting brigade.   


At the height of the Midwest Crime Wave of 1933-1935, these two women police officers were at ground zero, the matrix of the hunt for Dillinger.   It was an interstate, embattled officialdom, a backstabbing place where officials turned on each other, talked behind each other's back, and sold each other out.  And those were the men -- Captain Matt Leach of Indiana, Inspector Yendes of Dayton, Chief Michael Morrissey of Indianapolis, to name but a few.

 Indiana State Police fingerprint expert Marie Grott worked out of Indianapolis under Captain Matt Leach.  The press flirted with "Miss Grott."  The papers described her as "comely" (dictionary, anyone?)


During the Depression-challenged job market, a police woman in Indiana could bring home the bacon to fry before her eight-to-four shift.  Indiana women who were candidates for jobs, and who happened to know the right politician, were hired.  They got state jobs with responsibility and titles.  This was the result of political patronage; most of the civil service employees in the 1930s Midwest were there because they were connected to people under Governor Paul V. McNutt. 1

Both Marie Grott and Lillian Holly were maligned in the sexist press in the days before "sexist" was even a thing.  Both were hammered and elevated at the same time.  The result of this character assassination was more deadly for Holley than for Grott.

Marie Grott is best known to Dillinger aficionados as having accompanied Terror Gang moll Mary Kinder out of Tucson, Arizona, where she had been arrested with the gang.   Grott was overqualified for the job of impromptu prison matron.  Brought to Tucson with Indiana State Police (ISP) Captain Matt Leach, Grott took charge of Mary Kinder as she was extradited from Tucson to Indianapolis to undergo a grand jury investigation stemming from her alleged role in the notorious multi-prisoner escape from the Indiana State Penitentiary at Michigan City. 2

Leach included Grott in his entourage for several reasons.  As an inner-circle member of the ISP team close to Matt Leach, Grott was trusted.  Taking custody of Mary Kinder was anticipated as an act that would be wrought with hysteria.  Kinder was to be separated from her lover, Dillinger associate Harry "Pete" Pierpont.  Mary Kinder and Pierpont nursed hatred for Matt Leach, whom they blamed for not letting them get married while in custody. 3

Grott was a rising star in the department, a fingerprint expert who would soon head the Bureau of Criminal Identification.  In Tucson, Grott kept a poker face for photographers.  No doubt, the officer was aware that one false move, in this case a smile, would ruin the credibility she was trying to establish in her career.  As a result of her intuitive knowledge of the shark tank she inhabited, she survived the era with a strong reputation.  Grott managed her high-profile moments carefully, and stayed out of the limelight whenever possible.

Grott was injured in 1933 near Michigan City while enroute with Leach to question incarcerated Dillinger gang member Ed Shouse.  While driving alone in a car with the married Matt Leach, Grott's status as a single women was somehow overlooked by the press.  The other subject of this blog, Sheriff Lillian Holley, was not as fortunate. 4

While Marie Grott was patronized, Lillian Holley was vilified.

Holly is remembered as the "lady sheriff" who had charge of the Crown Point facility when Dillinger blazed out with a wooden gun.   A year before the escape, Holley had been assigned the job of sheriff after her husband, Roy, died in the line of duty.  She would eventually be skewered as holding a job that was "too tough for a woman."

Holley was caught in the crossfire of the sensational "wooden gun" Crown Point, Indiana, escape.  The press coverage that destroyed her reputation was the result of ignorance on the part of reporters as to the true machinations behind the escape.  Add to this a desire to tap into Depression-era America's inability to accept females in policing.  While the pundits blamed Holley, the true culprits -- the politicians, prison employees and judicial officials who were involved in the bribery conspiracy -- walked away from the grand jury investigation like a  walk in the park.  It did not help Holley that she, as the sheriff, was featured next to prosecutor Robert Estill as he posed with his arm around Dillinger. She smiled and appeared to be having a good time.  It was a moment that would prove to be her undoing. 5  Shortly after the escape, the press editorialized that Dillinger flew the coop because a women was in charge. 

Lillian Holley's nephew, Carroll Holley, floated around like Estill's ghost during the period that his aunt was pilloried.   Young Holley is photographed numerous times with Estill (in photo above, behind Estill to the left).  Young Holley as the deputy sheriff, took over for his aunt shortly after the escape.  Somehow, young Holley escaped the tag of holding a job that was too tough for the nephew of the lady sheriff.   It seems in hindsight that Lillian Holley took a fall in order to allow the job to remain in her family, that young Holley would be a placeholder to allow the minions of Robert Estill to maintain control in Crown Point/Lake County.

Lillian Holley got no support from news reporters who could have added a positive voice.  Dillinger-scoop staff writers for the Indianapolis Times, in particular Basil Gallagher and William "Tubby" Toms, did not step up and use the power of their pens to vindicate Holley.  While Toms took his material from ISP Captain Matt Leach, Gallagher often wrote independent, expository features.  It was Gallagher who first labeled Dillinger gang moll Mary Kinder as the "Queen of the Gun Molls."  Had he done research into the background and experience of Lillian Holley, Gallahger would have learned some impressive facts.

Holly had been in charge of  James "Fur" Sammons for a time prior to the Dillinger debacle.  Lake County Prosecutor Robert Estill was accused by East Chicago, Indiana reporters as needing to get the powerful Sammons out of the vice and gambling districts of Gary, where he posed a threat to the existing mob structure.  Estill rushed the Chicago gangster's commitment to prison. 6

Sammons was an expert machine gunner with a rap sheet that included rape of a young girl, murder during a robbery and sentencing to life imprisonment which was commuted to a parole in 1923. 7

The fall of 1933 conviction of Sammons had been a victory for both Holley and Estill.  In the frantic efforts to protect her good name after Dillinger's escape, Holley reminded the public that she had presided over custody of Sammons, who was a far greater threat to society than Dillinger. 8

"Mrs. Lillian Holley" retired from Lake County politics shortly after the escape, and her nephew, Carroll Holley took her place.

"Miss Marie Grott" settled by 1935 into to an administrative post within the Indianapolis State Police.  That year, she became the first woman to head the Indiana Criminal Investigation Bureau. The surrounding publicity celebrated her appointment by referring to her as a "good-looking blonde." 9





"Because of her excellent work in the Dillinger and other important criminal cases, Miss Marie Grott, comely fingerprint expert, has been promoted to head the criminal identification bureau pf the Indiana State Police.  Miss Grott has herself taken 139,000 fingerprints, and is adding to her files at the rate of 1,500 per month through exchanges with other states and the Department of Justice." 









Notes:

1.  Ellen Poulsen and Lori Hyde, Chasing Dillinger:  Indiana's Matt Leach Collides with the FBI, McFarland Publications, Exposit Imprint, to be released in 2018.

2.  Basil Gallagher, "City's Queen of the Gun Moll Call Master Strategist of Terrorists," Indianapolis Times, February 1934; "Holmes Out as Kinder Counsel," Indianapolis Times, February 3, 1934.

3.  Poulsen and Hyde, Chasing Dillinger.

4.  "Marie Grott Seriously Hurt in Auto Crackup; Leach Also is Injured," The Indianapolis News, February 3, 1934.

5.  "Indiana Desperado No. 1 Now Lodged in Jail of Mrs. Sheriff Holley," Indianapolis News, Jannuray 31, 193; "Woman Sheriff Unafraid as Killer Joins her Family," misc. news article.

6.  Poulsen and Hyde, Chasing Dillinger.

7.  John J. Binder, Al Capone's Beer Wars:  A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago During Prohibition, Prometheus Books, 2017, 96, 97.

8.  Ellen Poulsen, Don't Call Us Molls:  Women of the John Dillinger Gang, Clinton Cook Publishing Corp., 2002, 140.

9.  The Indianapolis News, September 14, 1935; "G-Woman in the U.S. Now",:Daily Mirror, September 14, 1935.

Ellen Poulsen is the 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 co-author of the forthcoming Chasing Dillinger:  Indiana's Matt Leach Collides with the FBI.  She lectures on the 1930s gangster era and has appeared on numerous TV documentaries, including AMC's The Making of the Mob.  She has started work on a book examining the 1934 New York State conviction and execution of accused husband "murderess" Anna Antonio.

www.dillingerswomen.com
www.lucianotrial1936.com