19 May 2019

The Pittsburgh machine gun murder that wasn't

'The Big Gorilla' may have been
killed with his own shotgun

On this date in 1927...

Lamendola
A Pittsburgh booze racketeer known as "The Big Gorilla" was murdered May 19, 1927, in what was initially proclaimed by the local press to be the city's first underworld assassination to involve machine guns. Newspapers subsequently backed away from the machine gun claim, when law enforcement concluded that a shotgun was instrument of death.

Coverage of the killing of Luigi Lamendola involved a great many journalistic disagreements. Newspapers could not agree even on the age of the victim. He was reported to be twenty-seven years old, thirty-two and thirty-five. (He was probably close to twenty-seven.) And the uncertainty did not end there. He was said to be a member of a Black Hand extortion organization or a victim of a Black Hand extortion organization or possibly neither. He suffered either three or six bullet wounds in the head. And he was killed in a hail of machine gun fire or through a double-barreled blast of a shotgun. Or possibly two shotguns.

There was general agreement that Lamendola - known to his friends as "The Big G" - was a bad guy. He was a brutal Prohibition Era gang leader, who held a monopoly on moonshine liquor distribution in Pittsburgh's Hill District and used threats of violence and a fair amount of actual violence to maintain that monopoly.

Some have claimed that he learned his craft from the Capone Outfit in Chicago before striking out on his own. (It is difficult to support this claim. However, Lamendola may have had connections with the underworld in the Hamilton, Ontario, area.) He may have served as a lieutenant of sorts for the Pittsburgh Mafia organization (led in the period by Stefano Monastero) until ambition caused him to strive for greater status.

Lamendola knew well that he had enemies. It was said that he did not often stray from the Hill District restaurant, 27 Chatham Street, that served as his headquarters. The building was also his home, as it contained a well furnished bachelor apartment upstairs. When he did go out, he carried a sword-cane with him. With the touch of a button, the outer cane covering fell away to reveal a fifteen-inch blade.

Late Thursday evening, May 19, after he locked up the restaurant and relaxed in the establishment with a couple of business partners, some enemies came calling. A large touring car with curtained windows pulled up in front. Two men got out and tapped on the restaurant's front window and called for Lamendola to come outside.

The Big Gorilla made it to the doorway. The two who tapped on the window ducked behind the car, and two others pointed weapons - most likely shotguns - at Lamendola through the car window curtains. The weapons fire, according to the Pittsburgh Press, "shattered" Lamendola's head. The damage done left the impression that a machine gun was used.

Pittsburgh Post


Lamendola partner Peter Curatolo, nearby at the time of the shooting, was superficially wounded by some of the shrapnel.

The automobile then proceeded north on Chatham Street, while the gunmen inside of it continued to fire. At least one bit of the fired lead cracked through the window of Charles Sparano's New Italian cafe at the corner with Webster Street - still busy at that late hour - and passed within inches of the head of a violinist in the cafe orchestra. The vehicle turned onto Bigelow Boulevard and sped away to the northeast.

Lamendola was rushed to Mercy Hospital. He was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. Authorities noted that he was wearing diamonds valued at about $12,000 and had four $1,000 bills in his wallet. His death certificate attributed the end of Lamendola's life to "shock and hemorrhage following gunshot wound of head. Prob. murder."

During their investigation of the killing, police searched the Lamendola restaurant and discovered several hundred gallons of moonshine whiskey. In the upstairs apartment, they found automatic pistols, knives and ammunition, including shotgun shells that matched those that took his life. They found no shotgun. At least not right away.

When detectives traced the escape route taken by the gunmen, they found a shotgun discarded on Bigelow Boulevard, near Washington Street. They assumed the gunmen tossed it out of the car as they drove away.

Days later, rumors circulated that Lamendola had been betrayed by someone in his own organization and had been killed with his own shotgun.

Adding further insult to fatal injury, press coverage subsequently suggested that Lamendola was working in the U.S. as an agent of the Fascist government of Italy. That charge seems to have resulted merely from the fact that Lamendola's remains were returned to his native city of Caltanissetta, Sicily, for burial.

Authorities held Lamendola's business partners for a while and questioned known members of the Pittsburgh underworld. But Lamendola's murder was never solved.

Sources:

  • "'Ghost' of murdered bootleg czar stalks through 'Hill' with death in either hand," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 23, 1927, p. 3.
  • "Death spurts from auto in Chatham St.; misses girl," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 20, 1927, p. 1.
  • "Hill District man victim of machine gun slayers," Pittsburgh Post, May 20, 1927, p. 1.
  • "Hunt slayers of Lamendola," Pittsburgh Press, May 20, 1927, p. 23.
  • "Italian murdered by gang here believed Fascist agent," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 16, 1927, p. 3.
  • "Lamendola, slain here, is buried in Italy," Pittsburgh Press, July 16, 1927, p. 1.
  • "Machine gun killers sought in Pittsburgh," New Castle PA News, May 20, 1927, p. 26.
  • "Machine gun theory falls when weapon that killed Hill District man is found," Pittsburgh Post, May 21, 1927, p. 5.
  • "Man ambushed and killed," Pottsville PA Evening Herald, May 20, 1927, p. 9.
  • "Murder cafe owners held," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 22, 1927, p. D-12.
  • "Nab gangster as murderer of Monastero," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 9, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Pittsburgh police probe slaying of restaurant owner," New Castle PA News, May 20, 1927, p. 31.
  • "Two more padlocks are clamped on," Pittsburgh Post, April 9, 1926, p. 3.
  • Gazarik, Richard, Prohibition Pittsburgh, The History Press, 2017.
  • Luigi Lamendola Certificate of Death, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, file no. 45184, registered no. 4142, May 19, 1927.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Conte Rosso, departed Naples, Italy, on Nov. 20, 1926, arrived New York, NY, on Nov. 30, 1926.

07 May 2019

Chicago fatal shooting no surprise to U.S. agents

Relatives, phony-money gang may have had grudges against Zagone

On this date in 1909:

Decatur Daily Review
Mariano Zagone, wealthy cigar manufacturer and leader in the Sicilian Mafia of Chicago, was shot and mortally wounded on the evening of May 7, 1909, at his son-in-law's Gault Court saloon. The shooting was not a surprise to some U.S. officials, who knew six years earlier that Zagone was to be put "on the spot."

Chicago Police arrived at the saloon, 154 Gault Court, about seven o'clock, to find Zagone unconscious and bleeding on the sidewalk outside. He had been shot through the temple. Police found a fully loaded revolver beneath him. Zagone was taken to Policlinic Hospital, a few blocks away at 219 West Chicago Avenue.
(Note: Gault Court ran between Oak Street and W. Chicago Avenue. It became Cambridge Avenue. One account placed the saloon at 134 Gault Court.)

Brothers Joseph and Carmelo Nicolosi, owners of the saloon, were taken into custody, though they claimed to know nothing of the shooting. Joseph Nicolosi, married to the daughter of Zagone's wife, told police he was speaking with a saloon patron at the bar when a gunshot was heard, rushed outside and found Zagone wounded on the sidewalk.

Chicago Tribune
Chicago detectives searched the saloon and found fresh blood spots near a chair by a cigar case. In the rear of the saloon, they found a blood-covered towel and surmised that it had been used to clean up a good deal of additional blood that had been spilled near the chair. Nicolosi said he did not know anything about the blood. Detectives decided that Zagone had been sitting inside the saloon when shot and then had been dragged out to the sidewalk.

Mrs. Biaggia "Bessie" Zagone was questioned by police. She had been nearby, visiting with her daughter Laura at Gault Court, when Zagone was shot. Detectives wanted to know if her husband had received any threatening letters from "Black Hand" extortionists. Bessie was allowed to return home after providing police with a statement:

"My husband has been shot at by someone four times in the last two years. The first time and tonight were the only times he was wounded. The first time he was shot in the back while entering the house at night and a short time after he was able to leave his bed and sit up in a chair a shot was fired from the street through a window at him. This missed my husband, but wounded my son Vincenzo in the left leg and arm as he lay in bed. A few months ago he was shot at a third time, the bullet coming through the front door, but missed him. I never knew my husband had enemies, and don't believe he received letters from the Black Hand."

Mariano Zagone lingered for a day and a half but never recovered consciousness. He died in the early morning of May 9.

Detectives understood that Zagone had enemies. The several previous attempts on his life dating back to November 1906 were well documented. But they found no enemies to charge with his murder. Instead, they had several Zagone relatives booked for murder. Joseph and Carmelo Nicolosi and Zagone stepson Joseph Spatafora were brought before Judge Bruggemeyer, charged and held to await the outcome of a coroner's inquiry.

The coroner's jury verdict on May 26 was unhelpful. It stated that Mariano Zagone had been killed by a person unknown. No convincing evidence turned up against the Nicolosis or Joseph Spatafora. The murder case remained a mystery in Chicago. But it was somewhat less mysterious to some federal agents.

Trouble with the boss

Giuseppe Morello, boss of bosses of the American Mafia, was arrested in April, 1903, in connection with Manhattan's infamous Barrel Murder. He also was suspected at that time of running an interstate currency counterfeiting ring.

Flynn
Following his arrest, New York Police and agents of the U.S. Secret Service searched a Chrystie Street apartment where Morello lived with his mistress and their infant daughter. During the search, Agent T.G. Gallagher observed the woman stuffing a package of papers into the baby's clothing. When the papers were removed, they were found to be a collection of correspondence between Morello and leaders of Mafiosi in Chicago and New Orleans.

The letters were examined at the New York office of the Secret Service. Agent in Charge William J. Flynn noted in his daily report of April 17, 1903, that some of the letters contained threatening remarks about a Chicago Mafia leader. The tone of the letters caused Flynn to believe the Chicagoan was already dead, and he reported, "The name Mariano Zagone is mentioned in some of the letters, if he is missing from #97 Milton Ave. Chicago, he may be the murdered man."
(Note: Milton Avenue was renamed Cleveland Avenue. The address referred to was close to the Zagone home on West Oak Street and to the Gault Court saloon. It may have been a Zagone cigar business address.)

A few days later, Flynn received a telegram from Secret Service Chief John Wilkie in Washington, D.C. Wilkie stated that Zagone "is at home, denies ever had any trouble with Morrello."

It is possible that Morello blamed Zagone for allowing law enforcement to learn of a Mafia counterfeiting network in Illinois, New York and New Jersey. The leader of that operation in the Chicago area, Antonio D'Andrea (a former priest and future Mafia boss), was recently  convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to Joliet Penitentiary.

D'Andrea
News released in May 1903 did not help Zagone's position with Morello. At that time it was revealed that the Secret Service learned much about the counterfeiting ring by infiltrating it through Zagone headquarters in the Nicolosi saloon. An undercover operative using the name "Joe Bassini" became friendly with the gangsters and provided information the Secret Service used to bring down D'Andrea. The Zagone gang uncovered evidence of Bassini's treachery but did not succeed in silencing the undercover agent.

At one point, Bassini was confronted by gang members at knifepoint. Threatened with death, he denied assisting law enforcement. Joseph Nicolosi, pretending to be convinced by the denials, stepped in to prevent Bassini's murder. He suggested Bassini and the gangsters patch things up and have a friendly drink. Bassini's drink was drugged. The agent awoke as a captive. Only by repeatedly pleading his innocence and claiming to need a doctor did he eventually win his freedom. On May 20, 1903, he returned with other Secret Service personnel and Chicago detectives and arrested Nicolosi. In announcing that arrest, the Secret Service stated that "the head of the gang of counterfeiters is alleged to be Mariano Zagona."

Zagone was soon arrested. The fact that he was found not guilty of counterfeiting may have convinced Morello that Zagone was secretly aiding law enforcement.

A house divided?

Detectives may have had good reason to suspect Zagone relatives of complicity in his murder.

Rumors surfaced about a Sicilian vendetta. Zagone reportedly stole another man's sweetheart. The man, not a gracious loser, swore to kill Zagone. Police were unable to confirm the rumors, but there may be some connection between them and known Zagone family relationships.

Shortly before marrying Zagone, Bessie was Biaggia Catronia Spatafora. She traveled to the United States in 1898 with her husband Gioacchino Spatafora and five children. The couple had a sixth child after settling in Chicago. The Spataforas appear to have been related by marriage to Rosario Dispenza, a Mafioso from the Ciminna area of Sicily who settled in Chicago in 1899. The Dispenzas and Spataforas lived along Milton Avenue, near Zagone.

About 1901, Gioacchino Spatafora died. The circumstances of his death are uncertain, but old age can be ruled out, as Gioacchino seems to have been in his mid-thirties. Might he have been killed?

Widow Biaggia married Mariano Zagone in October of 1902. Zagone became stepfather to the six Spatafora children and stepfather-in-law to Joseph Nicolosi (married to Laura Spatafora in January 1902).

If Gioacchino Spatafora was a victim of foul play, his kin would have had reason to suspect that the local underworld chief at least had knowledge of the matter. When that chief quickly took Spatafora's widow as his bride, a vendetta could have resulted.

Chicago Tribune 1914
After Zagone

Whatever led to the murder of Zagone, the primary beneficiary of the act seems to have been Rosario Dispenza, banker and saloonkeeper. Dispenza became the new Mafia boss of Chicago's Near North Side Sicilian colony. He also acquired the nickname "Heartless." It is known that Dispenza corresponded with New York-based boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello about Mafia matters. Dispenza's reign was a bloody one. The area near his business on Milton Avenue between West Oak Street and West Hobbie Street became known as "Death Corner."

Dispenza and a business partner, Anthony Puccio, were killed in January 1914, as Anthony D'Andrea brought Chicago's Sicilian underworld under his command.

Bessie Zagone relocated to Rockford, Illinois, for a time, living there with several of her younger children and working as a midwife. She died in Chicago, November 6, 1927, at the age of sixty-one.

(Note: Given the "G" sound of the letter "C" when pronounced by Sicilians, it is possible that Mariano's surname originally was Zaccone or Zarcone. That opens the possibility that he was related to Zarcone Mafiosi, originally from the Bagheria area of Sicily, who settled in Brooklyn, Chicago and Milwaukee. Like Mariano Zagone, a Giovanni Zarcone of Brooklyn had been involved with Giuseppe Morello counterfeiting operations and was murdered after a falling-out with the boss.)

Sources:
  • "Bad money gang raided," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 21, 1903, p. 5.
  • "Black Hand got wealthy Chicagoan," Decatur IL Daily Review, May 8, 1909, p. 1.
  • "Black Hand victim shot," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 8, 1909, p. 1.
  • "Booked on charge of murder," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 12, 1909, p. 4.
  • "Marriage licenses," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 7, 1902, p. 13.
  • "Repeated attempts to kill result from Italian feud," Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 21, 1906, p. 3.
  • "Would-be assassin shoots man at threshold of home," Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 7, 1906, p. 13.
  • "Zagone dies of his wounds," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 9, 1909, p. 2.
  • "Zagone murder still a mystery," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 27, 1909, p. 6.
  • Cook County IL Deaths Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Cook County IL Marriage Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Report, April 17, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Report, April 20, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Flynn, William J., The Barrel Mystery, New York: James A. McCann Company, 1919, p. 177-179, 206-214.
  • Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths Index, Ancestry.com; Cook County IL Death Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Aller, arrived New York on June 28, 1899.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Trojan Prince, departed Naples on May 24, 1899, arrived New York on May 19, 1899.
  • United States Census of 1900, Illinois, Cook County, North Town Chicago, Ward 23, Enumeration District 700.
  • United States Census of 1920, Illinois, Winnebago County, Rockford City, Ward 5, Enumeration District 201.

02 May 2019

Frank Costello: 'Somebody tried to get me'

NYC underworld leader survives assassination attempt

On this date in 1957...


New York City crime boss Frank Costello suffered only a superficial wound late on the evening of May 2, 1957, when a tall, hulking gunman fired a bullet at the back of his head.

The assassination attempt, along with legal battles relating to a tax evasion conviction and government attempts to revoke his citizenship, convinced Costello to retire from crime family leadership. Vito Genovese stepped in as boss of the organization that has since been known as the Genovese Crime Family.

May 2, 1957

Earlier on the night of May 2, Costello, the sixty-six-year-old leader of Salvatore "Lucky Luciano" Lucania's former organization, had dinner with his wife at the Monsignore Restaurant, 61 East 55th Street in Manhattan. They were joined by a number of friends, including New York Enquirer Publisher Generoso Pope, Jr. (who, with loans from Costello, would build his newspaper into the National Enquirer), and modeling agent Philip Kennedy. Costello decided to leave the party "early."

New York Times
Leaving Mrs. Costello at the restaurant with their friends, Costello and Kennedy took a taxi for the one and a half mile trip to the Majestic Apartments, 115 Central Park West, near 72nd Street. The taxi pulled up to the building shortly before 11 p.m. Costello and Kennedy spoke briefly, and Costello exited the vehicle.

The Mafia leader passed through an exterior door, descended two stairs and was opening an interior door to the building lobby when the large man in a dark suit and dark hat ran up behind him, said, "This is for you, Frank," and fired a single shot.

Kennedy heard the gunshot as his taxi pulled away from the curb. He told the driver to stop, and he jumped out and rushed to Costello.

The underworld boss had staggered to a lobby bench. Blood was oozing from a wound that stretched across the back of his scalp. Red blotches stained his jacket and shirt collar. He told Kennedy, "Somebody tried to get me."

A taxi was summoned to take Costello to Roosevelt Hospital, where it was found that the bullet had not penetrated his skull. Mrs. Costello joined her husband at the hospital at 11:50 p.m.

Investigation

About an hour later, police escorted a bandaged Costello to the West 54th Street Police Station, where he was questioned.

Though one Roosevelt Hospital doctor believed the nature of the scalp wound indicated that Costello turned toward the gunman at the moment the shot was fired, Costello insisted that he did not see who shot him and had no enemies in the world. "I didn't see nothing," he said. "I feel fine."

Costello claimed that he did not hear the gunman approach and did not even hear the shot that hit him. He merely felt a stinging sensation behind one ear and, when he touched the spot, felt the wetness of his blood.



The doorman of the Majestic Apartments told police that he saw the large gunman get out of a Cadillac double-parked behind the taxi that brought Costello home. He recalled that the man seemed to waddle as he rushed toward Costello. The gunman returned to the Cadillac after firing the single shot, and the vehicle sped away south on Central Park West. The Cadillac had curtains in its rear windows and no light on its license plate, according to the doorman.

(At some point that night, police acquired a slip of paper that had been in Costello's possession. After a fair amount of study, it was determined that numbers written on the paper - 651,284 - matched the gross gambling earnings of the Las Vegas Tropicana Hotel for the period April 3 to April 26. The opening of the Tropicana's casino had been delayed due to reported links to Costello associate Phil Kastel. The State of Nevada granted a license to the casino only after being assured that it had severed its connections with the underworld. Costello's slip of paper strongly suggested a continuing relationship.)

The Chin

For months, dozens of NYPD detectives struggled to identify the shooter. (They even picked up Carl Lucania, cousin of former boss Salvatore Lucania, for questioning, holding him on a vagrancy charge until June 25.) In July, they heard from sources that the gunman was former prizefighter Vincent "the Chin" Gigante. It took until late August to find and arrest Gigante.

Later in the year, resolving the attempted assassination of Costello was shoved to a back-burner, as authorities were busied with the assassination of Albert Anastasia and with a large-scale gathering of known underworld figures at Joseph Barbara's Apalachin, New York, home.

Gigante was tried in May 1958 for the shooting of Costello. On May 27, a jury found him not guilty, and he went free.

Gigante's connection with Vito Genovese - Costello's rival and his successor as crime family boss - became apparent weeks later, when Genovese, Gigante and several dozen others were charged with narcotics conspiracy. Authorities learned that Gigante had been assigned to eliminate Costello, so Genovese could take over the criminal organization.

Sources:
  • "Carl Lucania is freed by court," New York Daily News, June 26, 1957, p. 16.
  • "Costello gunman is sought in vain by 66 detectives," New York Times, May 4, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Costello is shot entering home; gunman escapes," New York Times, May 3, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Costello notation represents 'take' at Las Vegas Inn," Nyack NY Journal-News, June 12, 1957, p. B1.
  • "Gambler Costello shot in 'murder' attempt," Rochester NY Democrat and Chronicle, May 3, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Genovese freed in bail of $50,000," New York Times, July 9, 1958.
  • "Gigante beats rap in Costello case," Nyack NY Journal-News, May 29, 1958, p. 9.
  • "Hunt ex-boxer in shooting of Frank Costello," New York Daily News, July 17, 1957, p. 5.
  • "Jury frees Gigante in Costello shooting," New York Times, May 28, 1958, p. 1.
  • "U.S. jury indicts Genovese, Gigante in narcotics plot," New York Times, July 8, 1958, p. 1.
  • Federici, William, "Hogan links Costello's 'notes' to Vegas casino," New York Daily News, June 12, 1957, p. 4.
  • Katz, Leonard, Uncle Frank: The Biography of Frank Costello, New York: Drake Publishers, 1973, p. 203-209.
  • Machirella, Henry, and Henry Lee, "Jail ex-boxer for trying to kill Costello," New York Daily News, Aug. 20, 1957, p. 2.
  • McCarthy, Robert, Joseph Donnelly and Jack Smee, "Costello shot in ambush at door of home," New York Daily News, May 3, 1957, p. 2.

16 April 2019

Death of former Chicago gang chief goes unnoticed

Torrio founded Chicago Outfit
and mentored young Al Capone

On this date in 1957...

Chicago Tribune
May 8, 1957
Johnny Torrio, seventy-five-year-old former Chicago underworld boss, died April 16, 1957. His passing was virtually unnoticed. Newspapers were not alerted until about three weeks later, when his will was filed for probate.

Raised in the gangs of lower Manhattan's Five Points area, Torrio went west (along with longtime friend and fellow Five Points gangster Rocco "Roxie" Vanella) around 1909-1910. He became bodyguard, enforcer and business manager for Chicago vice lord "Big Jim" Colosimo - possibly a relative of Torrio's step-father Salvatore Caputo.

After a while, Torrio brought young Al Capone from Brooklyn to Chicago to assist him. Following Colosimo's 1920 murder, Torrio turned the Colosimo organization into a bootlegging operation and competed with other local gangs and the powerful Chicago Mafia for rackets territory.

A January 1925 assassination attempt convinced Torrio to retire as gang boss, and he turned his organization over to Capone. Following a jail term at Waukegan, Illinois, for Prohibition violations, Torrio returned to New York. He and his wife settled into a Brooklyn residence, spent winters in St. Petersburg and traveled abroad regularly. Torrio continued his involvement in underworld rackets, repeatedly running into trouble with the authorities.

The final decade of his life was spent out of the public eye. His last years were lived quietly in a recently constructed apartment building, 9902 Third Avenue in Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton section.

On April 16, 1957, he suffered a heart attack while in a barber's chair and was rushed to Cumberland Hospital (named for its first home on Cumberland Street but located on Auburn Place in 1957). He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. Torrio was survived by his wife of forty years, Anna.

NY Times, May 8, 1957

15 April 2019

'Joe the Boss' murder befuddles press

On this date in 1931...

U.S. Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Masseria was shot to death in a back room at Gerardo Scarpato's Villa Nuova Tammaro restaurant, 2715 West Fifteenth Street, Coney Island. The murder, arranged by Masseria lieutenants including Salvatore "Lucky Luciano" Lucania,  concluded the Mafia's Castellammarese War.

The killing of "Joe the Boss" Masseria was covered by newspapers across the country. But all struggled to make sense of it and many made incorrect assumptions. Lacking precise witness statements, the papers of the New York area presented starkly different accounts of the incident.

New York Daily News of April 16, 1931 ("Joe the Boss slain; Capone marks spot," by John Martin), attributed the killing to a rivalry between Masseria and Chicago gang boss Al Capone (Masseria and Capone actually were close allies during the Castellammarese War, with Capone serving as a Chicago-based capodecina in the Masseria organization):

    Joe the Boss, head of the Unione Siciliana and arch enemy of Scarface Al Capone, was put on the spot by the connivance of his own bodyguards as he dallied over a hand of pinochle in a Coney Island resort yesterday afternoon.

    Two bullets through the head and one through the heart toppled him lifeless beneath the table. Clutched in his hand, when treachery overtook him, was the ace of diamonds.

    In taking off Joe the Boss - Giuseppe Masseria on police records - the killers removed one of the most feared gang leaders in the east; a man who is said to have slain more than 100 persons with his own hand and to have dictated the killings of Frankie Marlow and other big shots of gangland.

    Defiance of Capone is believed to have accomplished Masseria's dethronement, as it has spelled death for countless other racketeers. Recently the Chicago underworld czar sent Joe the Boss warning to pull in his horns or they'd be amputated.

    The slaying took place in the Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant, at 2715 West 15th st., Coney Island, miles from the domain of Joe the Boss, which took in a large section of downtown New York and a slice of Brooklyn.

    Masseria in addition to controlling the Italian lotteries, was said to have dug in his tentacles so deeply that not a stick of spaghetti was sold in the city without paying him a tax.

    Masseria was in the place with two of his bodyguards - since the murder of Frankie Yale, one of his henchmen, he had never set foot out of doors without his gunmen - when two dapper young men alighted from a large blue sedan and walked in. They emptied their guns and fled.

    The bodyguards went, too. So did the proprietors. They went in such haste they left top coats and hats and $40 in bills scattered on the floor. Outside were found two .45 caliber automatics, tossed away by the killers or betrayers.

New York Times of April 16, 1931 ("Racket chief slain by gangster gunfire"), warned of a tremendous gangland conflict resulting from Masseria's murder:

    It took ten years and a lot of shooting to kill Giuseppe Masseria - he was Joe the Boss to the underworld - but this enemies found him with his back turned yesterday in Coney Island, and when they walked out into the bright sunshine Masseria's career was ended. There were five bullets in his body.

    To hear some of the detectives at Police Headquarters tell it, the killing of Joe the Boss is likely to cause an outbreak of gang warfare that will exceed anything this city ever has known. Some of the men who had kept tabs on the racketeer's long career insist that he was "the biggest of 'em all - bigger than Al Capone."

    It would be hard to tell why Masseria was "put on the spot," according to the police, for his name has been linked with numerous gang murders in the last ten years. And on the east side last night there was much furtive whispering and speculation as to what would follow. Even to his countrymen Joe the Boss was a mysterious power, greater in strength than many whose names appeared more often in the daily newspapers.

    At 1 P.M. yesterday Masseria drove is steel-armored sedan, a massive car with plate glass an inch thick in all its windows, to a garage near the Nuova Villa Tammaro at 2,715 West Fifteenth Street, Coney Island, and parked it. Then he went to the restaurant.

    What happened after that the police have been unable to learn definitely. Whether he met several men in the restaurant or whether he was alone when he went into the place, is uncertain. Gerardo Scarpato, the owner, said he was out for a walk at the time and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Anna Tammaro, said she was in the kitchen.

    At 2 o'clock the quiet of the little street near the bay was broken by the roar of gunfire and two or three men walked out of the restaurant to an automobile parked at the curb and drove away. When the police got there they found Mrs. Tammaro bending over the body of Joe the Boss. He lay on his back. In his left hand was clutched a brand new ace of diamonds.

    A few chairs were overturned in the restaurant and a deck of cards was strewn on the floor. There were several banknotes and a small amount of silver, about $35. Whether the ace of diamonds was put in Masseria's hand after he was shot, as some significant message for his friends, the police do not know. They are not inclined to believe that he was shot during a quarrel over a card game...

    Four hours after the shooting the automobile in which Masseria's murderers escaped was found abandoned at West First Street, near Kings Highway, Brooklyn, about two miles from the Nuova Villa Tammaro. On the back seat were three pistols. One lacked two cartridges; another had discharged one cartridge recently,a nd the third was fully loaded. Two other revolvers were found in the alley that runs along one side of the restaurant.

Paterson New Jersey Evening News of April 16, 1931 ("N.Y. fears gang war in slaying"), printed an INS wire story that echoed the incorrect gang war prediction of the Times but corrected the Capone relationship mistake of the Daily News:

    A violent gang war was predicted in New York as the aftermath of the killing of Guiseppe Masseria, known as "Joe the Boss." He was said by police to be an ally of Al Capone and worked with the Chicago gang leader in the liquor business, racketeering and gambling.

    Masseria was shot to death in a Coney Island cafe by two well-dressed young men who calmly walked into the restaurant and began shooting. They fired twenty shots and five struck Masseria - all in the back. He was found dead near an overturned card table.

    The killers walked leisurely out of the cafe and escaped in an automobile. Although fifty detectives surrounded the cafe shortly after the shooting, they uncovered no clews at the identity of the slayers.

    An armored steel car, equipped with bulletproof glass an inch thick, in which "Joe the Boss" was said to have traveled to protect him from many enemies, was found near the scene of the shooting. Police said they believed three of the Masseria gang, who had been with their chief in the cafe, might have hired the two young men to kill Masseria.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle of April 16, 1931 ("Suspect seized in murder of 'Joe the Boss'") noted the arrest of a murder suspect (the suspect turned out to be a Villa Nuova Tammaro restaurant waiter who had borrowed Scarpato's automobile) and further discussed the Capone angle:

    Brooklyn detectives were rushed to Jersey City shortly before noon, where a suspect had been taken into custody in connection with the slaying yesterday of Giuseppe (Joe the Boss) Masseria, big shot racketeer.

    According to information from the New Jersey authorities, they had seized Anthony Devers, 31, after he had given an erroneous Jersey City address.

    Devers was arrested on the State highway on suspicion. He was driving a car owned by Charles Starapata, of 2715 W. 15th St., Coney Island, the address of the Nuova Villa Tammara, where Masseria was slain.

    The slaying of Masseria led the police to take steps to prevent, if possible, the worst gang war in the city's history which they fear will follow the "rubbing out" of Masseria.

    When Police Commissioner Mulrooney was asked about the shooting he declined to admit that the dead man was an underworld big shot or that he ever had heard he was the arch enemy of Al Capone, Chicago's Public Enemy No. 1.

    The Commissioner was asked:

    "Did you know that several Chicago gunmen are known to be in Brooklyn and are supposed to have done the shooting?"

    "No, I do not," Mulrooney replied.

    "Have you learned any reason for the shooting?"

    "No. But we have detectives making an extensive investigation."

    Joe the Boss was far from his usual haunts when three slugs wrote finis to his 11 years of criminal activity.

    ...Masseria was playing cards in the back room of the Nuova Villa Tammara with three other men at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon when a blue sedan drove up to the door and two men leaped out.

    Walking directly through the restaurant, the men disappeard into the rear room. Instantly there came the sounds of several shots. Leaving by a side door and throwing their weapons away, the men entered their machine and disappeared.

    When the police of the Homicide Squad under Capt. Ray Honan arrived, no one was found who could give a clear description of the slayers or of the men playing cards with Masseria. Two bullets had struck Masseria in the head, another pierced his heart...

    One of the officers of the Union Siciliano, an organization of Sicilians, Masseria was the king of the wine, fish and beer rackets, his domain including a large portion of the east side of Manhattan and a part of Brooklyn.

    The reign of this underworld chieftain began in 1920, when he graduated from burglary and assault into the policy racket.

    In his day he had control of practically every purveyor of Italian food in the city, demanding and receiving tribute from wholesaler and shopkeeper alike.

Brooklyn Standard Union of April 17, 1931 ("Police follow scant clues to murder of 'Joe the Boss'"), discussed the murder investigation while dismissing boss of bosses Masseria as merely "a piker" (small-time operator):


    Forty detectives sought to-day, by clues and what little they could learn from the underworld, to untangle the murder of Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, without much hope of success, while sagas of racketeer power grew up about the Italian policy slip seller Commissioner Mulrooney has called a piker.

    Masseria's body still lay in Kings County Morgue, where it was identified yesterday by his son James, pending removal to the Masseria home at 15 West Eighty-first street, Manhattan, and the funeral accorded by henchmen to a gangster.

    The assassins who shot him from behind while he played cards Wednesday in a Coney Island restaurant were still unknown to police, and shielded by the frightened silence of all who might know anything about them.

    Acting Capt. John J. Lyons of Coney Island station questioned a half dozen local racketeers brought before him yesterday, without tangible results. Police Department fingerprint experts have gone over Masseria's armor plated car, which he parked near where he was killed.

    But hopes of police center now on three overcoats left in the Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant at 2715 West Fifteenth street where Masseria was killed. Two bear cleaners' marks, 6-504-28, and T-T 504. Detectives are checking these against the codes used in the city's dry cleaning establishments and tailor shops...

    The rumors about "Joe the Boss" continue to grow. Chicago gangsters of Capone ambushed him, one had it, because he was muscling into Brooklyn racket territory from his own bailiwick, the Bronx. Another had it he was taken by Al Wagner's gang on the East Side, over an insult from one of his followers to the wife of one of the Wagner gang. But "Joe the Boss" was, Commissioner Mulrooney insisted, a piker.

It is interesting that several accounts reported that Masseria's hand was holding a playing card when police reached the murder scene. The newspapers stated that the card was the Ace of Diamonds. A famous photograph of the scene, however, clearly showed an Ace of Spades card in Masseria's hand (at right). It has long been rumored that the photographer placed the legendary "death card" in Joe the Boss's hand before snapping the picture.

10 April 2019

Egan's Rats rob the Baden Bank

One hundred years ago today, the St. Louis-based Egan's Rats mob committed their first bank robbery of note in the North St. Louis neighborhood of Baden.



After first gaining notice in the early 1890s as a gang of Kerry Patch hooligans known as the Ashley Street Gang, the Egan gang had evolved into the city's premier organized crime outfit. Headed for much of their history by Thomas "Snake" Kinney and Thomas Egan, the crew specialized in both traditional street crime and political terrorism. In addition to being best friends and brothers-in-law, both Kinney and Egan were active in Democratic politics, the former as a Missouri State Senator and the latter as chairman of the St. Louis Democratic City Committee. The Kinney-Egan combine controlled several key St. Louis political wards and was able to use their muscle to not only influence elections but the passage of laws that would benefit both themselves and their constituents. With money and favors exchanging hands both above and under the table, the Kinney-Egan operation usually ran like a well-oiled machine. The only messy periods were the periodic Election Days, where the kid gloves came off, and the Egan crew used muscle and bullets to get the desired results at the ballot box.

After Snake Kinney's death from tuberculosis in May 1912, Tom Egan assumed full control of the gang's St. Louis-area operations, with Kinney's younger brother Michael taking his place in Missouri state politics. Egan's Rats (Tom hated the name and told a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter as much during a 1912 interview where he flaunted his crew's power) numbered over 300 men at their highest total and seemed virtually immune from prosecution for various criminal misdeeds, some of which included very public murders in downtown St. Louis.
As the great debate about whether or not to outlaw the sale and consumption of alcohol progressed in the early 1910s, Tom Egan accurately predicted that the Eighteenth Amendment would eventually pass. As a result, Egan went to great pains to construct a whiskey smuggling network between several cities in the Midwest and South. Known to be brutal and cunning, Egan was recognized as one of the most powerful crime bosses in the Midwest as the decade progressed.

With the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in January 1919, it looked as if Tom Egan's foresight was going to pay off incredibly in the form of thousands of dollars of profits from illegal bootlegging. As fate would have it, Tom would never see a cent of that windfall. In late 1918, Egan was diagnosed with the degenerative kidney disease then known as Bright's disease. In modern times, a transplant may have saved his life, but the crime boss continued to weaken throughout the winter. By the beginning of April 1919, the forty-four-year-old Egan was on his deathbed at his North City home at 4551 Arlington Avenue. Control of the gang fell to Tom's younger brother Willie.

Thirty-five years old in 1919, Willie Egan ran a popular saloon/restaurant known as Egan's Buffet at the corner of Fourteenth and Franklin streets. While a brilliant gangster and politician, Willie wasn't the natural leader of men that his older brother Tom was, and it just so happened that Willie assumed control over St. Louis's most powerful gang at an extraordinarily crucial time.
St. Louis gang boss Willie Egan
With the impending Prohibition of alcohol on the horizon, the dynamic of power in St. Louis's underworld was shifting away from the traditional political clubs to more open criminal businesses such as bootlegging. There was also a particular segment of Egan gang members who desired to make money through quick and decisive means such as armed robbery. These gangsters tended to be younger and more violent than their political war-trained predecessors; police would nickname them "The Red-Hots." As such criminal behavior tended to upset the apple cart and attract undue attention from police, Tom Egan would have squashed any notion his men had of bank robbery like a bug. However, by the spring of 1919, Tom was not in the position to squash much of anything. As a result, several of the "Red-Hots" began plotting a lucrative caper as their boss lay dying.

While the exact identities of the perpetrators of the upcoming heist were never made public, both the St. Louis police and Egan gang informant Raymond Renard would attribute it to Egan's Rats. Their target was the Baden Bank, located at 8200 North Broadway Avenue in the North City neighborhood of Baden. One suspected participant in the robbery was Max Greenberg, a clever member of the crew who would notoriously break away from the Egan mob and join the arch-rival Hogan Gang two years later. Baden, a residential neighborhood with a large German immigrant population, had somewhat lower crime rates than the rest of the city of St. Louis. Thus, they would not be expecting an armed robbery of their central bank branch.

Egan gang member Max Greenberg
Thursday, April 10, 1919, dawned fair and cool in St. Louis, the temperature around forty-four degrees. The Baden Bank opened for business at nine o'clock that morning. On the premises were the bank president, Frank W. Giese; head cashier Martin W. Muntzel; assistant cashier F.R. Baumgartner; teller Henry J. Fischer, and stenographer Ruth Pohl. Business was very light that morning, and nothing initially indicated that this would be any different than a usual business day. At precisely ten o'clock, a blue-black 1915 Hudson Super Six Phaeton containing eight men parked at the curb next to the bank's Baden Avenue side entrance. Two men remained in the front seat with the motor running while the other six exited the vehicle. All eight men were dressed identically in light gray raincoats and plaid flat caps; five of their number had handkerchiefs tied around their lower faces. When describing the heist to investigators a half-decade later, Ray Renard guessed that the outfits were Max Greenberg's idea. In retrospect, it was indeed a smart move to have the bandits dress identically, as adrenalized witnesses would instinctively focus on those outfits when describing the robbers to police. As one man stood guard near the side door, his masked cohorts rushed inside the bank.
   
There was no guard on duty that morning. In its ten years of operation, the Baden Bank had never been robbed. In fact, the very notion of bank robbery seemed inconceivable to most St. Louisans in 1919, the type of violent crime that belonged to the distant dime-novel past of Jesse James and his ilk. At the moment of truth, the bank's vault stood wide open as the employees "checked up" the money for the day. The five masked intruders leveled identical Army-issue Colt .45 caliber automatic pistols at the startled employees. Ruth Pohl let out a shriek as the lead bandit yelled out, "Throw up your hands!"
   
As there were no customers currently in the bank to deal with, the armed quintet quickly strode through the door that led behind the counter and cage. As three gunmen kept the employees covered, the other two produced cloth sacks and began gathering up stacks of cash from the shelves before cleaning out the loot from the open vault. The robbers also quickly searched counter and desk drawers for any money. At one point, one of the heisters noted an ostentatious diamond ring on cashier Martin Muntzel's finger and tried to snatch it. Muntzel twisted and raised his arm around so the bandit could not grab it. The frustrated gangster thrust the barrel of his .45 into the plucky cashier's face and told him, "Put both your hands up, or I'll kill you!" With their two cloth sacks now full, another of the robbers suddenly barked, "You all get in that vault." Muntzel, who had managed to save his diamond ring from its intended thief, protested that they would suffocate inside. Another bandit, described as being unusually tall, said, "We won't do anything like that." Still holding their hands up, the five bank employees were quickly herded into the vault. The bandits then closed the inner "day" door while leaving the massive vault door open. The heisters then made for the side door through which they had initially entered. It was later calculated that they had been in the bank for precisely four minutes as if operating on a strict time limit.
   
No sooner were they out the door when cashier Martin Muntzel quickly rummaged through an open safe-deposit box and fished out an old, single-action revolver. Muntzel then ran to the front door in time to see the bandits' Hudson Phaeton turning south on North Broadway. The escaping robbers, adrenaline pumping, were startled to hear the crack and pinging of three bullets fired through the bank's screen door by the gritty cashier Muntzel. Their driver immediately opened the throttle and accelerated down the avenue. A passing foot patrolman was roused by the sudden gunfire and saw the blue-black Hudson heading south at an increasing rate of speed. The unnamed officer commandeered a passing mail truck and ordered its driver to give chase. Standing on the truck's running board and hanging on with his left arm, the officer fired on the Hudson with his service revolver. One of the bandits, who seemed to be about thirty years old with a black mustache, leaned out of the Hudson's passenger side window and returned fire with his .45 automatic. No one was hit in the running gun battle. The Hudson's driver hung a sharp right turn onto Calvary Avenue and almost hit a pedestrian. Undeterred, the getaway driver gunned the Hudson up the avenue's steep incline and threaded the needle between Calvary and Bellefontaine cemeteries. The larger mail truck had a more difficult time negotiating Calvary's grade and fell behind in the pursuit. The robbers were last seen turning south onto West Florissant Avenue.
   
St. Louis police quickly arrived at the bank and began to take statements from the bank's employees and outside witnesses. The robbers were universally described as being young, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five mostly, save for the older mustachioed bandit who fired on the officer during the pursuit. The pedestrian who was nearly hit at Calvary and North Broadway confirmed details about the getaway car and gave its license plate number as 144933. The plate was quickly traced to a member of Egan's Rats named Ernest "Bergadine" Miller. Now awaiting trial for stealing goods from railroad boxcars (an essential racket of the pre-Prohibition Egan gang), Miller claimed that his Hudson had been stolen sometime earlier. Police didn't buy his alibi and began taking a close look at the Rats while issuing an all-points bulletin for the vehicle. Over fifty suspects were rounded up from all points of North City and downtown St. Louis and put on the grill. Police got precisely nothing to work with. 
   
Around ten o'clock that evening a car driven by Detective Ira Cooper, the first Black detective in the history of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, caught sight of the wanted blue-black Hudson Phaeton as it drove north on Taylor Avenue. Cooper was accompanied by two other Black detectives, William Crockett and Charles Johnson, and gave chase. They noted that the Hudson matched the description of the Baden Bank bandits' getaway car but now lacked a license plate. Now alerted that he was being followed by police, the Hudson's driver hit the gas and turned right on Easton Avenue (modern-day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive).
STLMPD Detective Ira Cooper
Detective Cooper and his partners followed close behind for a few blocks until the Hudson swung south on Pendleton Avenue. A block or two later, the Hudson turned east on Evans Avenue. At that point, the three detectives were suddenly halted in their pursuit. The first version said that two strange sedans had moved away from the curb and blocked their path as the Hudson disappeared down Evans. A second version, related by a police officer who wished to remain anonymous, stated that the trio of sleuths had been forcibly halted by a group of White policemen who were suspicious of three plainclothes Black men driving through the neighborhood at a high rate of speed. Whatever the reason for the delay, Detectives Cooper, Crockett, and Johnson were quickly moving again. At Sarah and Evans streets, the trio picked up two uniformed cops, a Sergeant Armstrong and Patrolman William Teppe. After a brief search, the task force managed to locate the Hudson in question parked near the corner of Cook and Whittier avenues. There was little inside the vehicle except one $20 gold piece, two $2.50 gold pieces, and a nickel.

Throughout the city of St. Louis and the surrounding area, the Baden Bank robbery dominated newspaper headlines. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch printed an editorial inevitably comparing the robbers to Jesse James. While Egan's Rats wouldn't be publicly linked to the heist until Ray Renard's testimony in 1925, the police had an excellent idea that the trail of guilt led right to Willie Egan's saloon at Fourteenth and Franklin. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that the heisters retreated to Egan's Buffet immediately after the job. As bank robbery was not yet a federal offense, the Rats had nothing to worry about from the embryonic FBI (then still officially named the Bureau of Investigation). After the evening papers began hitting city newsstands later that afternoon and the connection to Egan gang member Ernest Miller became public knowledge, they most likely designated one of their number to get rid of the Hudson Phaeton used in the robbery. The car disposal got a little hairy thanks to Detective Ira Cooper and his partners, but it was ultimately successful.
Even the Post-Dispatch Weatherbird commented on the robbery.

It was eventually determined that the Egan crew got away from the Baden Bank with a total of $59,310.15 (a little over $872,000 by current monetary standards). The denominations of their loot included several $1000 gold certificates, two $500 bills, several $50 bills, a total of $1500 in fives, tens and twenties in additions to 60 to 80 gold coins of various denominations. It was the largest bank robbery in St. Louis's history up to that point and would remain so for eleven years. A reward of $1000 was offered for information leading to the apprehension of the perpetrators; it remains uncollected to this day. Other than the four coins found in the getaway car, none of the loot was ever recovered.

On April 20, 1919, ten days after the Baden Bank robbery, gang boss Thomas Egan succumbed to Bright's disease. Egan's death, virtually concurrent with the successful bank job, signaled the beginning of a new phase in the history of his criminal organization. Gone were the days of politically motivated terrorism. No longer would the city and state Democratic politics determine the direction of the gang. After April 1919, the driving force in the Egan universe was cold, hard cash. With the coming of Prohibition and its thousands of dollars in potential bootlegging profits, in addition to the seeming inability of local law enforcement to stop a broad-daylight bank robbery, the city of St. Louis was riper than a summer squash in September. For the "Red-Hots" of Egan's Rats in the spring of 1919, the world was their oyster.

Postscript

- While the eight perpetrators of the Baden Bank robbery remain officially unidentified, some of the Egan gang members suspected of participating included; Max Greenberg, Abe Goldfeder, Ben Milner, Ernest "Bergadine" Miller, Ben "Cotton" Funke, Edward "Big Red" Powers, Clarence "Little Red" Powers, and David "Chippy" Robinson. Out of those eight suspects, only three of them would die of natural causes. 

- Two key members of Egan's Rats, William "Dint" Colbeck and Louis "Red" Smith, had not yet been discharged from the Army after their wartime service in France. Thus, they didn't participate in the Baden Bank robbery.

- At the time of the Baden Bank robbery, three suspected participants; Max Greenberg, Ben Milner, and Edward "Big Red" Powers were free on an appeal bond after their 1917 conviction of theft of interstate shipment in Danville, Illinois. The trio had been sentenced to a total of five years each, but Willie Egan utilized connections that enabled a presidential pardon petition to make its way to President Woodrow Wilson. After spending a few months in 1920 behind bars in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, all three men would be officially pardoned.

- Between April 1919 and November 1924, it was conservatively estimated that Egan's Rats had stolen close to 4.5 million dollars from the various bank, armored car, and messenger robberies that they committed.

- The Baden Bank remained in business until 1984. The building that formerly housed the bank still stands at 8200 North Broadway Avenue in North St. Louis. Other than a few boarded up and broken windows, it looks virtually the same as it did a century ago when Egan's Rats arrived to make their unexpected withdrawal.

Sources

The April 10-11, 1919 issues of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and St. Louis Star.

Daniel Waugh, Egan's Rats: The Untold Story of the Prohibition-era gang that ruled St. Louis, Nashville: Cumberland House, 2007.




09 April 2019

Caught without his chain mail shirt

On this date in 1913:

Crime figure Amadeo Buonomo was buried April 9, 1913, in Queens, New York. He died of a gunshot wound on April 6, a casualty of the 1910s underworld warfare in East Harlem.

The conflict featured a number of New York gangland's more colorful figures:
- Pasquarella Musone Spinelli, owner of the "Murder Stable" and known as the wealthiest woman in the community at the time of her murder in spring 1912;
- Aniello "Zoppo" (the Gimp) Prisco, Black Hand racketeer hobbled after one of his legs was shot to pieces and later killed while in the act of extorting money;
- Giosue Gallucci, cafe owner and lottery racketeer, who was regarded as the "king" of Harlem's Little Italy until his reign was ended by bullets in May 1915.
(See: "Owner's killing is start of 'Murder Stable' legend" on Mafiahistory.us.)

Buonomo stood out from the group due to his unusual wardrobe. It was said that, after becoming involved in the gang war, about the time of Prisco's December 1912 death, he generally wore a chain mail hauberk beneath his clothes to protect against the blades of his enemies. As a Prisco disciple who swore to avenge the Neapolitan gang boss's killing, he had plenty of enemies.

A resident of 1758 Madison Avenue, between 115th and 116th Streets, Buonomo was proprietor of a restaurant at 331 East 114th Street. In addition to his business and the threats of rival gangsters, Buonomo also devoted much of his attention in the period to the plight of his younger brother, Joseph "Chicago Joe" Buonomo. Joseph had been convicted of first degree murder and was awaiting execution in Connecticut. (Joseph was part of a New York-Chicago human trafficking ring. His wife, known by the name Jennie Cavalieri, provided information on the ring to authorities and then ran off to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Joseph found her there and shot her to death on October 22, 1912. After Amadeo's death, Joseph won a new trial in Connecticut, but its result was the same. He was executed by hanging at Connecticut State Prison in Wethersfield just after midnight on June 30, 1914.)

According to published reports, the twenty-seven-year-old Buonomo was not wearing his protective chain mail one evening in early April (the reports suggest it was April 3), as he started down a stairway to a basement wine shop at 113th Street near First Avenue. But it probably would not have afforded him much protection on this occasion, as his attacker opted to use a handgun rather than a knife.

A bullet fired at close range entered his neck. Friends rushed Buonomo to Harlem Hospital, where he lingered for days before succumbing. There were a number of rumors relating to statements he made on his deathbed, but it is unlikely that Buonomo was able to say very much. According to the autopsy, the bullet wound caused internal bleeding into his throat, and Buonomo eventually asphyxiated, drowned by his own blood.

His April 9 funeral, directed by the Paladino and Pantozzi firm of East 115th Street, was an East Harlem spectacle. The hearse, drawn by six white horses, was followed by one hundred carriages of mourners and a forty-two-piece marching band. Buonomo was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

Sources:
  • "Buonomo pays for killing," Bridgeport CT Evening Farmer, June 30, 1914, p. 1.
  • "Coats of mail still in use," Buffalo Enquirer, Oct. 27, 1913, p. 4.
  • "East Side gunmen take second victim," New York Tribune, April 30, 1913, p. 5.
  • "Feudists' bullets avenge slaying of gunman in Harlem," New York Evening World, April 11, 1913, p. 10.
  • "Two more Italians shot," New York Sun, April 18, 1913, p. 5.
  • "White slave's' life here," New York Tribune, Oct. 29, 1912, p. 7.
  • Amadeo Buonomo Certificate of Death, registered no. 11224, Department of Health of the City of New York, date of death April 6, 1913.
  • Critchley, David, The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931, New York: Routledge, 2009, p. 110-111.
  • New York City Death Index, certificate no. 11224.
  • Thomas, Rowland, "The rise and fall of Little Italy's king," Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 12, 1915, Sunday Magazine p. 4.

04 April 2019

Deported to Guatemala due to fake birth record

On this date in 1961...

U.S. immigration officials arrested New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello on April 4, 1961, and immediately deported him to Guatemala.

Shreveport Times, April 5, 1961
Reporting for a quarterly alien registration at the Immigration and Naturalization Services office in New Orleans, Marcello was confronted with a government document that indicated he was born in Guatemala in 1910. He was then handcuffed, loaded into a law enforcement automobile and whisked, sirens blaring, to the airport.

He was not permitted to speak with family or to pack a bag. He was put on a U.S. government plane and transported to a military airport in Guatemala City. The trip was the culmination of a nearly decade-long government effort to deport the mob boss.

Marcello was known to have been born in an Italian colony in Tunis, North Africa, and to have been brought into the U.S. by his parents when he was a baby. Attempts to deport him were repeatedly blocked by legal maneuvers and international disagreements. Though he was an Italian national, Italy refused to accept him. Tunisia wanted nothing to do with him. France, which held Tunisia as a protectorate until the mid-1950s, also refused to take him.

The Kennedy Administration learned that Italy's refusal was linked with rumors of a Guatemalan birth record for Calogero Minacore, Marcello's birth name. Officials determined that Marcello had the fake birth record created to protect himself from deportation. The scheme backfired when the Administration obtained a copy of the birth record and used the document to justify shipping him to the Central American country.

While Marcello's U.S. attorneys worked frantically but unsuccessfully to have him returned, Guatemala quickly proved that the birth record was fraudulent and decided that Marcello had to go. As the Guatemalan government tried to set up its own deportation, Marcello disappeared. The crime boss resurfaced in Metairie, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, in June.

Sources:

  • "'They kidnaped me,' charges Marcello," Monroe LA News-Star, April 7, 1961, p. 1.
  •  "Bulletin," Alexandria LA Daily Town Talk, April 4, 1961, p. 1.
  •  "Government deports Marcello to Guatemala," Shreveport LA Times, April 5, 1961, p. 1.
  •  "Guatemala orders ouster of Marcello," Lafayette LA Daily Advertiser, April 27, 1961, p. 15.
  •  "Marcello faces deport orders in Guatemala," Lake Charles LA American Press, April 5, 1961, p. 1.
  •  "Marcello giving little assistance to lawyers," Lake Charles LA American Press, April 6, 1961, p. 1. 
  • "Marcello jailed in Orleans on charges of illegal entry," Shreveport LA Times, June 6, 1961, p. 1.
  • "Marcello returns to U.S.' believes in Shreveport area," Shreveport LA Times, June 2, 1961, p. 1.
  • "Police arrest N.O. racketeer in Guatemala," Shreveport LA Times, April 22, 1961, p. 1.
  • "Racketeer fights to void deporting," New York Times, April 5, 1961.
  • "Robert Kennedy promises action on Carlos Marcello," Lafayette LA Daily Advertiser, March 23, 1961, p. 13.
  • "Start move to deport Orleans crime figure," Shreveport LA Times, Dec. 31, 1952, p. 1.
  • "U.S. acts to end Marcello stay," New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dec. 31, 1952, p. 1. 
  • "U.S. is assailed on deportation," New York Times, April 6, 1961.
  • "U.S. upholds Marcello ouster; rejects plea to bring him back," New York Times, April 16, 1961.
  • Davis, John H., Mafia Kingfish, New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1989.
  • Kennedy, S.A. Regis L., "Carlos Marcello," FBI report, file no. 92-2713-272, NARA no. 124-10205-10439, Feb. 7, 1962.
  • Milliner, Louis, "Marcello family returns to U.S.," Alexandria LA Daily Town Talk, May 4, 1961, p. 21.
  • SAC Milwaukee, "Carlos Marcello AR," FBI Memorandum to Director, file no. 92-2713-299, NARA no. 124-10206-10310, March 24, 1962.
  • Wagner, Susan, "Lawyer charges 'Gestapo' tactics in Marcello ouster," Alexandria LA Daily Town Talk, April 5, 1961, p. 22.

02 April 2019

NOLA mayor to offer apology for 1891 lynchings

American Italian Center to host proclamation on April 12

Cantrell
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell will offer an "Official Proclamation of Apology" for the 1891 lynching of eleven Italian-American men, according to published reports. The apology is scheduled to be presented in a morning ceremony April 12, 2019, at the city's American Italian Cultural Center.

The proclamation reportedly was set in motion by the Commission for Social Justice, Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America (OSDIA). The commission approached the mayor's office with the idea and found Cantrell receptive. The mayor appointed Vincenzo Pasquantonio, head of the city's Human Relations Committee, to coordinate with OSDIA. Cantrell, the first woman to serve as mayor of the Crescent City, was inaugurated in May 2018, replacing term-limited Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Commission Special Counsel Michael A. Santo told reporters the lynchings were "a longstanding wound" for the Italian-American community. "This is something that has to be addressed," he told the Washington Post, praising Mayor Cantrell for her courage.

Some of the victims
The eleven victims included six men who were tried but not convicted for the 1890 murder of local Police Chief David Hennessy and five others charged but not yet tried for that crime. (The lynching, its causes and its aftermath were discussed in Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon.)

Chief Hennessy was murdered on his way to his Girod Street home late on the evening of October 15, 1890. He parted from his bodyguard, Captain William O'Connor, about one city square from his residence. A few steps later, gunmen firing from across the street knocked Hennessy down with shotgun loads of birdshot and then closed on their victim, firing high caliber slugs into his body. Hennessy drew his Colt revolver and shot in the direction of his attackers. As the gunmen ran off, O'Connor reached the fallen chief.

Hennessy
"They gave it to me, and I gave it back the best I could," Hennessy told O'Connor. The captain asked if Hennessy could identify his attackers. "Dagoes," Hennessy said.

The police chief died at Charity Hospital the next morning. Suspected members of the Mafia criminal society and their associates were arrested. Eighteen were charged with conspiring in the assassination. Louisiana-born businessman Joseph P. Macheca, Mafia chief Charles Matranga and seven others were the first to be brought to trial in early 1891.

On March 13, the jury acquitted six defendants and could not reach a verdict on the remaining three. The defendants all continued to be held at the Parish Prison - with the others charged in the assassination but not yet tried - pending the expected dismissal of related charges in another court on the Fourteenth.

There were widespread rumors of jury bribery. Civic leaders and a vigilante group known as the Regulators assembled on the night of March 13 and announced a public meeting at the Henry Clay statue (then in the middle of Canal Street at the intersection with Royal and St. Charles) for the next morning:

All good citizens are invited to attend a mass meeting on Saturday, March 14, at 10 o'clock a.m., at Clay Statue, to take steps to remedy the failure of justice in the Hennessy case. Come prepared for action.

 Sixty-one prominent citizens signed the meeting call that was published in the morning newspapers. More than half of the signers belonged to one or both of the Crescent City's exclusive social clubs, The Pickwick Club and The Boston Club.

Mass meeting at Clay statue
Many thousands filled the street for that meeting. After being fired up by Regulators leader William Stirling Parkerson and other speakers, the mob marched to the prison. Though the lynchings are generally blamed on the angry mob, evidence strongly suggests that only a carefully selected execution team participated in the killings inside the prison.

Battering down door
Learning of the approaching thousands, the prison warden opened the cells of his Italian prisoners and advised them to hide as best they could. Parkerson's men attempted to batter through the main gate but more quickly gained entry by breaking down a rear door to the warden's apartment.

The execution squad of about one dozen men moved quickly through the prison, dragged one prisoner outside for hanging, then trapped and shot three prisoners in an upstairs prison hall. Seven prisoners were cornered in the prison yard. As they begged for mercy, the execution squad opened fire with repeating rifles at close range. When one of the targets was found to have survived the shooting, he was dragged outside to be hanged. (Another prisoner, mortally wounded in the shooting in the upstairs hall, remained alive but unconscious for hours.)

Execution squad
As the execution squad exited the prison, Parkerson again addressed the people in the mob, assuring them that justice had been achieved and urging that they return quietly to their homes.

Mob swarms Parish Prison
Local newspapers were supportive of the vigilante action. The New Orleans Times-Democrat commented, "Desperate diseases require desperate remedies." The Daily Picayune blamed the incident on "corrupt ministers of justice." New Orleans businessman in the Cotton Exchange, the Sugar Exchange, the Produce Exchange, the Stock Exchange, the Lumbermen's Exchange and the Board of Trade passed resolutions declaring the murders of the prisoners to be justified.

Picayune
Early in April 1891, a New Orleans judge dismissed a lawsuit brought against the city by the widow of one of the lynching victims. She argued that the city failed in its responsibility to safeguard the lives in its care. The judge found that laws making a municipality liable for destruction of property did not extend to a liability for loss of life. In the same month, the city administration defended anti-Italian sentiment by compiling and publishing a list of ninety-four "assassinations, murders and affrays" vaguely attributed to Sicilians and Italians. A month later, a grand jury investigating the lynchings issued a lengthy report critical of the victims. No one was indicted for participating in the raid on the prison or the execution of the helpless prisoners.

Pittsburgh Dispatch
The incident triggered a year-long dispute between the United States and Italy. Though arguing that most of the victims were either U.S. citizens or had declared their intention to become U.S. citizens, President Benjamin Harrison's Administration agreed to an indemnity payment of about $24,000. Harrison publicly condemned the lynchings and criticized Louisiana authorities for their handling of the matter.



According to a press release from the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America, the ceremony will begin Friday, April 12, 2019, at 11 a.m. at the American Italian Cultural Center, 537 South Peters Street, just north of Lafayette Street. The Commission for Social Justice is the anti-defamation arm of the OSDIA. The commission was formed in 1979. OSDIA's roots stretch back to 1905 in New York City. The American Italian Cultural Center was founded in New Orleans as the American Italian Renaissance Foundation Museum and Research Library by the late Joseph Maselli (1924-2009).

The website of the New Orleans mayor provides no information about the anticipated apology. The American Italian Cultural Center's website is promoting this special event. The center is also selling tickets to an Italian community dinner on the eve of the mayor's proclamation.



See also:




Sources:

  • "Mayor to apologize for 191 lynching of 11 Italian Americans," New York Times, nytimes.com, March 30, 2019.
  • "Official Proclamation of Apology by the Mayor of New Orleans to the Italian American Community for America's Largest Single Mass Lynching," PRWeb, prweb.com, April 2, 2019.
  • Daugherty, Owen, "New Orleans mayor to apologize to Italian-Americans for 1891 lynchings," The Hill, thehill.com, April 1, 2019.
  • Feldman, Kate, "New Orleans mayor to apologize to Italian-Americans for 1891 lynchings that killed 11 immigrants," New York Daily News, nydailynews.com, April 1, 2019.
  • Flynn, Meagan, "New Orleans to apologize for lynching of 11 Italians in 1891, among worst in American history," Washington Post, April 1, 2019.
  • McConnaughey, Janet, "New Orleans mayor plans apology for 'longstanding wound' of 1891 Italian immigrant lynchings," New Orleans Advocate, theadvocate.com, March 30, 2019.
  • Prior, Ryan, "128 years later, New Orleans is apologizing for lynching 11 Italians," CNN, cnn.com, April 1, 2019.
  • Santo, Michael A., Esq., "Presentation of an Official Proclamation of Apology by the Mayor of New Orleans to the Italian American Community," We the Italians, wetheitalians.com, March 25, 2019.