05 June 2018

Buckshot finishes Tampa big shot

On this date in 1950:



James Lumia, businessman, gambling rackets boss and Tampa Mafia leader, was in his car, double-parked on 19th Street near Harper Street(*) in the Palmetto Beach neighborhood south of Ybor City. The headquarters of his gasoline and oil distributing company was close by. It was about 10 o'clock Monday morning, June 5, 1950, and he had stopped to give some instructions to employees Fernando Gil and Gaspar Montes, parked in a Chevrolet pickup used for oil company maintenance work.

James Lumia
As he spoke to the men through the passenger side window of his new, green, Chrysler sedan, a blue Ford pulled alongside and slightly in front of him. The driver of the Ford tapped his horn, causing Lumia to turn to his left and look out his window. A man rose from the Ford's back seat and fired a shotgun into Lumia's face.

The buckshot blast tore off the top front of Lumia's head, leaving a five-inch wound that stretched from "an inch or so below his eyes to some distance above the hair line." Blood, flesh and brain tissue were splattered about the inside of the vehicle. The gunman's car then drove off. In a futile effort to save his boss, Gil climbed into the driver's side of Lumia's car, pushing Lumia just enough to the right to allow him space on the seat, and raced off toward the hospital. Montes got the attention of off-duty Hillsborough County, Florida, Deputy Sheriff George Penegar, who was driving by, and told him to follow the gunman.

The speeding Chrysler caught Penegar's eye, and the deputy sheriff pursued it rather than the Ford. He stopped Gil at the busy intersection of 19th Street and Adamo Drive. Penegar seized a pistol found in the vehicle and called for an ambulance.

It took Lumia's forty-seven-year-old body nearly a half hour from the time of the shooting to acknowledge what was obvious to everyone else: Lumia was dead. His breathing reportedly continued for about fifteen minutes after he reached the hospital.

Lumia's funeral was held on Wednesday afternoon, June 7. He was entombed in the family mausoleum at L'Unione Italiana Cemetery.

Traffic is directed around the Lumia automobile.

Police investigators were quickly frustrated. Gil and Montes said they could not recall any helpful details about the gunman's car or its occupants. Their instincts for self-preservation may have clouded their memories.

There was reason to believe that the brothers of crime figure Jimmy Velasco, shot to death in 1948, had set up the killing of Lumia to avenge Jimmy. When Jimmy Velasco's accused killer, Joseph Provenzano, was brought to trial in 1949 (he was acquitted), Velasco's widow testified that Lumia was a leader of a regional gambling syndicate and an enemy of her husband.

Detectives questioned Roy and Arthur Velasco about the shooting of Lumia. Though neither was at all upset at learning of Lumia's demise, each provided alibis. The possibility that Lumia had a falling out with underworld figure Salvatore "Red" Italiano could not be pursued, as Italiano was known to be away in Italy, arranging wine deals for his Tampa business.

Lumia's name had been mentioned in the press recently in connection with the trial of several - including Roy and Arthur Velasco - who were accused of plotting to kill Hillsborough County Sheriff Hugh Culbreath. Defense attorneys suggested that the plot against Culbreath was fabricated by Lumia, Italiano and Primo Lazzara, working with Culbreath, in order to halt the Velasco brothers' investigation into Jimmy Velasco's murder. The defense wanted to call Lumia, Italiano and Lazzara as witnesses, but they could not be located. The trial was paused on May 11 at the request of the defense. At the time Lumia was murdered, he was scheduled to appear as a witness when the trial resumed in mid-June.

Lumia was known to be well connected politically and was found to have close acquaintances in the Mafia across the U.S. Within the Tampa area, Lumia had kinship ties to the Diecidue and Antinori clans. It was later revealed that the godfather of Lumia's son was Pittsburgh Mafia leader John LaRocca and that LaRocca attended the wedding of Lumia's daughter. (Pittsburgh area Mafia leader Gabriel Kelly Mannarino later served as godfather to a Lumia grandchild.) Upon the arrest of southern California crime boss Jack Dragna, Lumia's telephone number was found to be in Dragna's possession.

The interior of Lumia's Chrysler is examined.

Local police Chief J.L. Eddings told the press of rumors that Lumia worked in the background of the regional gambling syndicate. He noted, however, that Lumia had never been arrested.

A week and a half after the Lumia murder, with the investigation going nowhere, Chief Eddings announced his resignation. The fifty-year-old Eddings indicated that his doctor required him to take a long rest. In the same period, Hillsborough County Sheriff Culbreath and State's Attorney J. Rex Farrior were criticized for underworld links and failure to resolve a series of gangland killings.

Lumia was discussed when the U.S. Senate's Kefauver Committee investigated the impact of interstate rackets on Florida. One witness brought before the committee, the ex-wife of Deputy Sheriff DiLorenzo, said her ex-husband appeared to know about the Lumia murder before it occurred. She said Anthony DiLorenzo was familiar with Santo Trafficante and Primo Lazzara and served as a messenger between law enforcement and organized crime. The deputy sheriff indicated beforehand that he had some role to perform in connection with the Lumia murder. He told his wife that he wished he could get out of it, but "he was in it so deep that he couldn't get out." DiLorenzo allegedly told his wife years earlier that Lumia was "getting too big and someone had to stop him."

(*) These Tampa streets, 19th and Harper, no longer intersect.

Sources:
  • Images from June 6, 1950, issue of Tampa Tribune.
  • "Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce," Hearings Before a Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, U.S. Senate, 81st Congress, 2d Session, and 82nd Congress, 1st Session, Part 1-A Florida, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951, p. 39-44.
  • "Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce," Hearings Before a Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, U.S. Senate, 81st Congress, 2d Session, and 82nd Congress, 1st Session, Part 1-A Florida, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951, p. 49.
  • Forsyth, Thomas G. III, "Gabriel Mannarino," FBI report, file no. 92-2914-351, NARA no. 124-10277-10007, June 26, 1969, p. 2.
  • Voege, Robert A., "Sebastian John La Rocca," FBI report, file no. 92-2940-33, NARA no. 124-90104-10151, July 9, 1958, p. 11-12.

  • "Golden wedding today," Tampa Tribune, Aug. 12, 1945, p. 29.
  • "Funeral notices," Tampa Tribune, April 25, 1947, p. 2.
  • "Defendants accuse sheriff of frame-up," Palm Beach FL Post, May 12, 1950, p. 11.
  • "Rodrigez charges 'frameup,'" Tampa Tribune, May 12, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa murder plot suspects charge sheriff with frame-up," Tampa Tribune, May 12, 1950, p. 12.
  • "Tampa gambler murdered," Orlando FL Evening Star, June 5, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Lumia killed; described as gambling boss," Binghamton NY Press, June 5, 1950, p. 14.
  • "Gambler slain in gang-style," Franklin PA News-Herald, June 5, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Funeral notices," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 2.
  • Murray, J.A., "Two men in blue car...," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Warren silent on slaying of Luma; warning recalled," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • Abbott, Bill, "Lumia's slaying 15th spewed on Tampa by flaming gang guns," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "None of 15 gambling slayings here ever solved," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 6.
  • "Fla. gambler is killed by gun blast," Shreveport LA Times, June 6, 1950, p. 15.
  • "Lumia murder may again baffle Tampa police force," Orlando FL Evening Star, June 6, 1950, p. 11.
  • "Tampa gang style killing puzzles police," Fort Lauderdale FL News, June 6, 1950, p. 13.
  • "Slaying of Lumia baffling to police," Tallahassee FL Democrat, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa gaming czar is slain," Palm Beach FL Post, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa chief of police resigns," New York Times, June 16, 1950, p. 20.
  • "Crime probe of Miami underway," [Salem OR] Daily Capital Journal, Dec. 29, 1950, p. 2.
  • "Text of Rex Farrior's sworn statement to senators is released," Tampa Times, Feb. 22, 1951, p. 1.

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