16 March 2020

Bogus Blackhand bombing in Buffalo

Marital blowup nearly causes building blowup

In mid-March of 1918...

Buffalo Commercial
Claiming to be targets of "Black Hand" extortion, father and son Diego and Calogero "Charles" Alessi sought help from the Buffalo, New York, Police Department on Friday, March 15, 1918.

The Alessis, originally from Marianopoli, Sicily, had been in the United States for a couple of decades. Sixty-seven-year-old Diego worked as a laborer and grocer. Calogero, thirty-five, one of Diego's five sons, was employed as a motorman with the International Railway Company. The two men and their families lived at 122 Trenton Avenue in Buffalo.

That address had been Diego's home for at least ten years. Calogero, his wife and their two children, formerly residents of 32 Baker Street (where some other Alessi family members lived), had recently moved into a downstairs apartment in the Trenton Avenue home.

Calogero brought an unexploded bomb into police headquarters that Friday. He said he found it on the steps outside of the family home at about five o'clock that morning. His father instructed him to take it to the police. Eight family members had been inside the home when the bomb was placed. Calogero said his father had previously received and ignored mailed threats demanding hundreds of dollars.


Zimmerman and Miller (l to r) of the Buffalo Police
Black Hand terrorism, consisting of mailed extortion letters, was becoming a common story, as successful Italian-Americans were increasingly targeted by extortion gangs. The front of Dr. A.J. Cetola's home at 65 Front Avenue recently had been torn off in an explosion following his refusal to pay extortion demands.

Police took custody of the bomb from Calogero Alessi and turned it over to City Chemist Herbert Hill for examination. Hill determined that the device contained sufficient explosives to destroy the entire building. He noted that some distinctive fabric was used inside the device and in its outer covering.

The incident earned attention from the press, but not nearly as much attention as what occurred a few days later.

Buffalo Evening News
Following a brief but apparently thorough investigation by Detective Sergeant Edward J. Newton, Detective Sergeant Charles F. Zimmerman, Detective Ralph Guastaferro and Inspector Charles N. Miller, two men were placed under arrest on Monday, March 18. The suspects were Diego and Calogero Alessi. They were charged with placing explosives at their own home. (At that time, Newton and Zimmerman were in charge of investigating cases in Buffalo's Italian community, and Miller was chief of the Buffalo Police Detective Bureau.)

The investigation revealed that there had been domestic trouble between Calogero and his wife of fifteen years, Mary. Calogero had been trying to convince Mary to leave and to take their two children with her. A search of the Alessi home turned up a pair of Calogero's pants that had been cut up. The fabric was a match for that contained in the bomb.

When interviewed by police, Mary Alessi said that her husband and in-laws had been working to push her out of the house. On the morning of March 15, she said, Calogero returned home from work at about two o'clock in the morning. She and Calogero had an argument, after which he left the home, locking her and the children inside. The bomb was found shortly after that. The discovery did cause Mary and the children to leave the home and return to 32 Baker Street. Mary quickly took a factory job for income.

The case against Diego and Calogero Alessi was dismissed in Buffalo City Court for lack of evidence. However, Calogero was then prosecuted for abandoning his family responsibilities. That case came before Judge William P. Brennan on May 13, 1918. Brennan questioned Mary Alessi about the relationship with her husband. She testified that she believed Calogero had grown tired of her and planned to scare her off through the use of the bomb.

Calogero Alessi was convicted. Judge Brennan sentenced him to probation and ordered him to provide support of $7 a week to his wife and children.


Sources:
  • "Bomb causes aged Italian to report," Buffalo Commercial, March 15, 1918, p. 11.
  • "Cleared on bomb charge; now must support family," Buffalo Courier, May 14, 1918, p. 2.
  • "Hold two for bomb probe," Buffalo Enquirer, March 19, 1918, p. 14.
  • "Men put bomb in front of own house, police say," Buffalo Evening News, March 19, 1918, p. 9.
  • "Must support family," Buffalo Enquirer, May 13, 1918, p. 12.
  • "That bomb was to scare wife," Buffalo Evening Times, March 19, 1918, p. 4.
  • "Told to pay for support of his wife and children," Buffalo Evening News, May 14, 1918, p. 15.
  • "Two planted bomb, say police," Buffalo Courier, March 19, 1918, p. 4.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Victoria, departed Naples on Sept. 29, 1899, arrived New York on Oct. 18, 1899.
  • Regan, J.E., "Chief Girvin's Buffalo Police," The National Police Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1918, New York: National Police Journal, 1918.
  • Regan, John E., "The efficient police force of Buffalo, N.Y.," The Police Journal, Vol. IX, No. 4, April 1922, New York: Journal Publishing Company, 1922.
  • The Buffalo Courier 1916-1917 Classified Directory, Buffalo: Paul Goering & Co., 1916, p. 105.
  • The Buffalo Directory 1908, Buffalo: Courier Company of Buffalo, 1908, p. 129.
  • The Buffalo Directory 1918, Buffalo: J.W. Clement Co., 1918, p. 102.

25 February 2020

Death of powerful NE Pennsylvania boss

Some link Bufalino to Hoffa disappearance, 
Kennedy assassination, effort to kill Castro

On this date in 1994...

Rosario "Russell" Bufalino, longtime boss of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Mafia, departed this life on Friday afternoon, February 25, 1994, at the age of 90. He may have taken numerous underworld secrets with him. Bufalino was widely suspected of involvement in the disappearance of former Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. He also was believed by many to hold information relating to the assassination of President John Kennedy and to the CIA's efforts to remove Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.


A resident of Kingston for much of his life, Bufalino passed away at ten minutes after two in the borough's Nesbitt Memorial Hospital. The cause of death was not released. Relatives kept secret their plans for Bufalino's funeral, irritating state and federal investigators who wanted to document and film the individuals attending it.

Born October 29, 1903, at Montedoro, Sicily, Bufalino was taken to the United States as a baby with his mother Christina Bucceleri Bufalino and several siblings. His father Angelo was already living in the Pittson area of Pennsylvania. Following the deaths of his parents, Bufalino and two sisters were shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic by family members. He and one sister ended up in 1914 with an older brother in Buffalo, New York (who was close to Magaddino underboss John Montana), while the remaining sister was deported for medical reasons. As a teen, Bufalino worked as an automobile mechanic.

Bufalino married Caroline Sciandra at Buffalo in the summer of 1928. The newlyweds subsequently moved to Endicott, New York, and Pittston, Pennsylvania, before settling in Kingston. They both had relatives in the region. Bufalino became involved in the garment industry and held financial interests in the Penn Drape & Curtain Company and the Alaimo Dress Company.

This was a departure from the pattern of earlier underworld-connected Montedoresi in the Luzerne County coal country, who had become leaders both in coal mining operations and in the coalminers' labor unions. Bufalino's early roles in the regional Mafia, known as the "Men of Montedoro" because of the dominance of the Montedoresi, are uncertain.

Bufalino likely succeeded to the leadership of the Men of Montedoro Mafia following the 1949 death of John Sciandra. But he was not really noticed by law enforcement until the Apalachin convention of 1957.

Bufalino's crime family was reported to be closely aligned with the Genovese Crime Family of nearby New York City. Bufalino spent much of his time in New York and is believed to have aided Mafiosi from that area in setting themselves up in non-union garment manufacturing businesses in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Bufalino also appeared to have business interests in Florida and Cuba.

There were reports of a visit to Cuba by Bufalino in November 1951. Documented trips to the island nation in late 1955 and spring 1956 later caused serious legal problems for the crime boss because he improperly claimed U.S. citizenship upon his reentry.

Authorities were confused by crime family relationships following the 1957 Apalachin convention. Due to the proximity of convention host Joseph Barbara's Apalachin estate to Scranton, Pittston, Wilkes-Barre home territory of the Northeast Pennsylvania Mafia, state and federal investigators decided that Barbara was a regional crime boss and Bufalino was his underboss. (This was stated in the 1970 report of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission.) It now appears, however, that Barbara was a remote lieutenant for the Magaddino Crime Family based in Buffalo, New York, while Bufalino was boss of his own organization.

As federal investigators looked into Bufalino after Apalachin, they discovered documents relating to his earlier returns from Cuba. In April of 1958, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered him deported as an undesirable alien. Years of legal appeals followed.

(Some writers have insisted that Bufalino developed a close personal relationship with Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the late 1950s and worked to return Batista to power after Fidel Castro's revolution. Some connect these claims to incidents relating to Hoffa and the Kennedys. There even have been suggestions that Bufalino personally fled Cuba just ahead of Castro's advancing army at the start of 1959 and may have watched the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion from a ship off the Cuban coast. Given Bufalino's ongoing problems with the INS deportation order, these claims seem far-fetched. It would have been extremely unlikely that Bufalino would have risked setting foot outside the country in this period for any reason at all.)

Late in 1959, Bufalino was among the more than 20 Apalachin meeting attendees to be convicted of conspiring to keep the purpose of the meeting from investigating agencies. In January 1960, Bufalino and fourteen co-defendants were sentenced to serve five-year terms in prison. Others were sentenced to lesser terms. The judge permitted the defendants to remain free on bail pending their appeals. Nearly a year later, an appeals court threw out the convictions.

Bufalino remained virtually untouched by law enforcement until his later years. Near the end of 1969, he was indicted in connection with the transport of stolen televisions across state lines. He was acquitted in 1970 and complained to the press about law enforcement harassment and wiretapping. He was then charged in spring 1973 with engaging in extortion in the cigarette vending machine business. A jury in Buffalo, New York, acquitted him.

At about that time, the U.S. was poised finally to deport him to his native Italy, but Italy halted the plan, refusing to issue the paperwork necessary for his return.

Another extortion case resulted in another acquittal in 1975. In the same period, Bufalino was mentioned but not charged in connection with the disappearance and likely murder of Hoffa, who was attempting to regain power in the Teamsters union. However, in the summer of 1977, Bufalino was convicted of extortion. His first documented experience inside a prison occurred in summer 1978, when his legal appeals concluded and he became an inmate at Danbury, Connecticut, Federal Correctional Institution. He served three years of the sentence before being paroled on May 8, 1981.

During his time in prison, the crime family of Northeastern Pennsylvania was reportedly managed by Edward Sciandra (nephew of former boss John Sciandra).

Less than half a year after his release from prison - at a time when his underworld organization was regarded as the most powerful in the State of Pennsylvania - he was charged with conspiring to kill a federal witness back in 1976. He was convicted and sentenced to ten years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. He was released in May 1989, after serving six years and eight months of that term. The end of the sentence was served in the federal prison hospital at Springfield, Missouri, as Bufalino's health began to decline in 1987 and a transfer was deemed necessary.

Bufalino spent the final two years of his life in a Kingston nursing home. Following his death, management of the regional crime family fell to Edward Sciandra and former Bufalino driver and confidant William D'Elia.

Read more:

Informer - Apr 2011

INFORMER: Informer - Apr 2011

Men of Montedoro by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona / Daring 1870 Bank Robbery in Scranton / Sicilian Miners Battle Black Handers in Northeastern Pennsylvania by Thomas Hunt / Capones Reach the Promised Land by Deirdre Marie Capone / Northeast Pennsylvania Mafia Membership Chart by Bill Feather /…

Find out more on MagCloud


Sources:

  • Corbett, Steve, "Moving up in the underworld," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 29, 1994, p. 3.
  • Corbett, Steve, "The passing of a shadow," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 1, 1994, p. 3.
  • "Death of the Don: Bufalino ruled over a vast crime empire," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, March 6, 1994, p. 8.
  • "Death of the Don: Direction of Bufalino Family now remains unclear," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, March 7, 1994, p. 6.
  • "Feds want Bufalino mourners on film," Wilkes-Barre Citizens" Voice, March 1, 1994, p. 5.
  • Houlihan, Frederick T., "Russell Alfred Bufalino, aka Russell Bufalino...," FBI report, file no. 92-2839-86, NARA no. 124-10290-10333, Sept. 12, 1960.
  • Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. II - From 1938, 2013.
  • Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, "Men of Montedoro," Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement, April 2011.
  • Lynott, Jerry, "Former Pocono Record writer's book reveals a boss's power," Pocono Record, Sept. 3, 2013.
  • "Mob boss Bufalino dies," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 4.
  • "Mob boss Russell Bufalino," Philadelphia Daily News, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 37.
  • Moldea, Dan E., "The Hoffa Wars," Playboy, November 1978.
  • Morrison, Mitch, "Mystery follows Bufalino to the grave," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 1, 1994, p. 2.
  • New York State Marriage Index, Buffalo, New York, certificate no. 23108, Aug. 9, 1928.
  • "Organized crime may be meeting its Waterloo," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, April 17, 1994, p. 17.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Brasile, departed Naples on Dec. 31, 1905, arrived New York on Jan. 14, 1906.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Citta di Milano, departed Naples on Dec. 2, 1903, arrived New York on Dec. 21, 1903.
  • Pennsylvania Crime Commission, Report on Organized Crime, 1970.
  • Russell A. Bufalino World War II draft registration card, Fox Hill PA, 1942.
  • "Russell Bufalino," New York Daily News, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 25.
  • "Russell Bufalino, 91, reputed Pa. mob boss," Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 28, 1994, p. C10.
  • "Russell Bufalino, alleged mob boss, dies at age 90," Hazleton Standard Speaker, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 30.
  • "Russell Bufalino, reputed Pennsylvania crime boss," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 16.
  • SAC Philadelphia, "Russell A. Bufalino, aka, Neutrality Matter," FBI Airtel, file no. 2-1664-1, NARA no. 124-10293-10378, March 3, 1961.
  • Scholz, Frank, "Reputed mob boss Bufalino, 91, dies," Scranton Sunday Times, Feb. 27, 1994, p. 3.
  • Shurmaitis, Dawn, "Just a good fella?," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, April 17, 1994, p. 1.
  • Shurmaitis, Dawn, and Robert Sitten, "Russell Bufalino, 'don of dons,' dies," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 1.
  • Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 168-12-7767, death date Feb. 25, 1994, claim date July 26, 1968.
  • Social Security Death Index, 162-12-7767, Feb. 25, 1994, Ancestry.com.
  • U.S. Department of Labor Immigration Service file on Cristina Bufalino, 1914.

24 February 2020

Centenarian mobster 'Sonny' Franzese passes

Colombo Crime Family big shot John "Sonny" Franzese died Sunday, February 23, 2020, at the age of 103, according to published reports. Family sources indicated that Franzese, a longtime resident of the Long Island Village of Roslyn, died following a brief illness.

(While it appears he was at least 100 at the time of his death, Franzese's age has been inconsistently reported over the years. He was widely reported to be forty-seven when indicted in March 1966, placing his birth in 1918-1919. Some government files point to February 1919 as the date of his birth. That birth timing was confirmed when he was arrested as a parole violator in spring 1986 at the stated age of 67. However, more recent reports have added a couple of years. The age of 103 noted in his obits puts his birth in 1916-1917. Other government files support that timing.)

The Neapolitan Franzese reportedly began his underworld career as an enforcer and hit man. Federal authorities believe he was introduced to organized crime through his father, Carmine. "Sonny" Franzese's power and influence were greatest in the 1960s, when as crime family lieutenant, he supervised Colombo rackets on Long Island and invested in "adult" night spots, Times Square peep shows and massage parlors, recording companies and pornographic movies.

Law enforcement began catching up with Franzese in the middle of that decade. He was indicted in March 1966 for acting as an enforcer for a lucrative Manhattan bookmaking ring, in the following month for leading a gang responsible for bank robberies across the U.S. and in October of the same year in connection with the 1964 murder of Ernest "the Hawk" Rupolo. Franzese once told Newsday that he felt the collection of charges in that period were due to a "conspiracy to get me."

Prosecutors got him only on the bank robbery conspiracy charge. For that federal offense, in April 1967 he was sentenced to up to fifty years in prison and fined $20,000. Franzese always insisted that he was innocent. He viewed the cases against him and the long prison sentence as government attempts to convince him to provide evidence against his underworld associates. He boasted of his commitment to the Mafia code of silence.

"They wanted me to roll all the time," Franzese recalled for an interview with Newsday. "I couldn't do that, because it's my principle. Jesus suffered; He didn't squeal on nobody."

Franzese remained free on $150,000 bail as his legal appeals in the bank robbery case were processed. (His attorneys argued that evidence against him had been obtained through the use of illegal electronic surveillance in the kitchen of his Roslyn home.) The appeals were unsuccessful, and he began serving his sentence on March 26, 1970, just three days before the Easter holiday. He was released on parole for the first time in 1978, but was sent back to prison on five different occasions for violating parole.

Franzese, then in his nineties, was convicted in 2010 of extorting New York businesses. He was sentenced to serve eight years in prison. He was last released from prison in June 2017.

In recent years, Franzese lived in a nursing home, needed a wheelchair to get around due to a broken hip and reportedly was fitted with a heart pacemaker and hearing aids.


Sources:

  • Brown, Lee, "102-year-old mobster: 'I never hurt nobody that was innocent," New York Post, nypost.com, March 27, 2019.
  • Burke, Cathy, "Colombo underboss Sonny Franzese looks back on 102 years with no regrets, and a boast that he's never been a rat," New York Post, nypost.com, March 27, 2019.
  • "Cosa Nostran held as robberies brain," Plainfield NJ Courier-News, April 13, 1966, p. 7.
  • "Crime figure seized on L.I.; Parole violations are cited," New York Times, April 29, 1986, p. 36.
  • Everett, Arthur, "Mob tightening grip on pornography," Vineland NJ Times Journal, Dec. 14, 1972, p. 21.
  • Failla, Zak, "Man who led Colombo Family's Long Island rackets dies," Suffolk Daily Voice, dailyvoice.com, Feb. 24, 2020.
  • "Franzese loses bid to upset verdict," New York Times, March 27, 1970, p. 37.
  • Kirkman, Edward, and Arthur Mulligan, "Put halter on big bookie 'muscle man," New York Daily News, March 25, 1966, p. 2.
  • Peddie, Sandra, "John 'Sonny" Franzese dead: Longtime Colombo underboss was 103, family says," Newsday, newsday.com, Feb. 24, 2020.
  • Pugh, Thomas, William Federici and Richard Henry, "Indict 5 Cosa hoods in killing of 6th," New York Daily News, Oct. 4, 1966, p. 3.
  • Sherman, William, "Mafia declares war, but porn king survives," New York Daily News, Dec. 13, 1972, p. 5. 
  • Walsh, Robert, "Franzese gets new suit; it's a jailstriper," New York Daily News, March 27, 1970, p. 24. 
  • Walsh, Robert, and Henry Lee, "Tag 9 guys & a gal in bank holdups, Inc.," New York Daily News, April 13, 1966, p. 3.

15 February 2020

Shotgun takes out Chicago's 'Scourge'

On this date in 1926...

Shotgun blasts on the evening of February 15, 1926, ended the underworld career of well-connected Chicago Mafioso Orazio Tropea.

Orazio Tropea (Chicago Daily Tribune)

Witnesses saw Tropea step off an eastbound streetcar at the corner of Taylor and Halsted Streets shortly after nine o'clock that night. As he walked east across Halsted, an automobile advanced on him from behind and nearly struck him. Tropea yelled angrily at the driver. The car stopped next to him, and a man emerged from it and raised a shotgun to Tropea's head. The Mafioso had just time enough to shout and raise his arms before the first barrel of the shotgun was discharged. The gunman then fired the second barrel.

Tropea absorbed much of the lead, but some fragments scattered, breaking through the windows of nearby businesses and wounding a bystander.

No shortage of suspects 
After spending some time in New York City and Buffalo, Tropea, known in underworld circles as "the Scourge," became a lieutenant in the Genna gang of Chicago in the early 1920s. He organized extortion rackets and extracted tribute payments from local businessmen.

In a relatively short time, Tropea accumulated an imposing list of enemies. Business owners resented his collection efforts. Adversaries of the "Terrible Gennas" had good reason to fear and hate him. Following the mid-1920s murders of brothers Angelo and Michael Genna, Genna relatives and the new underworld regime of Joseph Aiello quickly joined the enemies list.

Tropea's secret betrayal of the Genna clan and his allegiance to a breakaway Mafia faction became apparent following the January 1926 murder of Genna in-law Henry Spingola. Tropea and Spingola were playing cards at Amato's Restaurant on Halsted Street. Tropea stepped briefly away from the game as it was wrapping up. It was said that he either made a telephone call or raised a lighted match in front of a street-facing window. Spingola was then shot to death as he got into his car.

In February, Tropea was assigned with collecting money for the legal defense of Mafia gunmen John Scalisi and Albert Anselmi, charged in the shooting deaths of two Chicago detectives. That he was skimming from the collections could be deduced from his comfortable living arrangements at the Congress Hotel. And that, too, likely added significantly to his enemies list.

Tropea's personal life did not improve his popularity. With a wife and child in Catania, Sicily, Tropea married another woman and had another child while in Buffalo. After moving on to Chicago, he began a new relationship with a local teenager and sought to marry her as well (the wife in Sicily had reportedly died by this time, but he was still married to the woman in Buffalo). Her parents refused to permit the marriage, but Tropea continued seeing the girl.

Any of the individuals betrayed, hurt or terrorized by Tropea could have played a role in his murder.

Connections
Investigators discovered that Tropea had been carrying almost one thousand dollars in cash and wearing a large diamond ring when he was shot. They also learned that he was preparing to leave the city for a vacation in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Police also recovered Tropea's small addressbook. It included a number of personal and business contacts from the Chicago area, including Mafioso Antonio Lombardo and members of the Aiello family. It also had information for underworld figures in Buffalo, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Brooklyn.

Read more about Tropea's addressbook on Mafiahistory.us.

Divisions within the Chicago Mafia came to the attention of investigators. They learned that gunmen initially brought into Chicago to act as Genna enforcers had decided to break away. The resulting factional struggle resulted in the killings of several Gennas, "Samoots" Amatuna and others.

One mourner
Following the Tropea murder, according to the press, no one in the Chicago area had a single good word to say about "the Scourge." Many in the Italian-American community expressed relief at his passing.

While his mother-in-law in Buffalo considered having the body brought to western New York for burial, that plan seems to have been quickly abandoned. Only two visitors went to the funeral home: his wife and his young girlfriend.

Arrow shows Tropea as
pallbearer for Angelo Genna
(Chicago Daily Tribune)

Tropea was buried on February 20. There was no religious service, none of the gaudy trappings of Chicago gangland funerals (as seen in the recent funeral of Angelo Genna, for whom Tropea served as pallbearer). Only the girlfriend went to the gravesite for his burial. As Tropea's city-funded casket was placed there, she fell onto it and wept.

Killings continue
The murder of Tropea did not bring an end to the warfare in Chicago's Sicilian underworld.

Baldelli (left) and Bascone

One day after Tropea was buried, a friend of his was found dead in a field in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn. Vito Bascone had been shot in the head. It looked as though his body had been thrown from a passing automobile. Police knew that he had quarreled with the Spingola family and concluded that Bascone's murder was related to the ambush of Henry Spingola.


Three days after that, the body of Edward "the Eagle" Baldelli was found in a Chicago alley. Baldelli had been severely beaten and then shot twice through the head. Police believed that the body had been driven to the alley and left there to be discovered. In Baldelli's possession, police found a number of business cards, including one for a business partner of Orazio Tropea.

See also:

Sources:
  • "Certificate of identification," photograph, Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 38.
  • "Deportation or death seen as gangster fate," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 2.
  • "Feudists slay Sicilian ally of Genna gang," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Fight to free city of thugs given impetus," Belvidere Daily Republican, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Forty-first victim of gang war," Buffalo Evening Times, Feb. 24, 1926, p. 15.
  • "Gennas' friend slain; spurs war on aliens," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 22, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Latest slaying occurs during lull of one day in drive against gunmen," Rock Island IL Argus, Feb. 24, 1926, p. 1.
  • "List of names found," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 2.
  • "One dead in gang fight," DeKalb IL Daily Chronicle, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Orazio the 'Scourge' buried without friends or clergy," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 21, 1926, p. 4.
  • "Parents weep over clewless Mafia murder," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 25, 1926, p. 4.
  • "Police raid Mafia; get 121," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 23, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Raiders find old haunts of gunmen dark," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 25, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Rival loves weep for Orazio but his real widow is sought," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.
  • "Say man killed in Chicago son-in-law of Buffalo woman," Buffalo Daily Courier, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 16.
  • "Sicilian gang kills again," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 22, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Son-in-law is killed by gang in Chicago row," Buffalo Morning Express, Feb. 17, 1926.
  • "Trace Sicilian killers in fight for deportation," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.

"A Killing in Capone's Playground: The True Story of the Hunt for the Most Dangerous Man Alive" Foreword

St. Joseph Police Officer Charles Skelly, 1929

“Merry Christmas, Officer Skelly,” bellowed Santa Claus, the treasured character aptly portrayed by a local merchant. It was a Saturday evening, December 14, 1929, in downtown St. Joseph, Michigan. Police officer Charles Skelly smiled and waved at the well-padded jolly man in red. It was just above freezing and clouds hid the fiery sun sinking into Lake Michigan. Officer Skelly had bundled up in his duty coat to stave off the elements. Southwesterly winds blew in from Chicago, much different from the “pea soup” treachery of the previous two days. Dealing with the elements was part of Skelly’s job. Most recently, the elements were in the form of fire and water, since he had been serving as the assistant chief of the St. Joseph Fire Department during the last year. Deep down he was a boy in blue, so when the opportunity arose in June, Skelly stepped off the fire engine and onto a motorcycle. That winter night, though, he was on foot, walking his beat, passing by garland-decorated lampposts and shoppers struggling to carry bulky packages.

Christmas was on the minds of everyone, and maybe a few other things, too. That night was the opening of the Class D high school basketball season for Benton Harbor’s St. John’s Irish who faced the Gaels of the Berrien County community of Galien. Those seeking to cozy up at home could listen to WGN Radio’s “Radio Floorwalker” at 8:00 p.m. News around the state showed that liquor law violations were down, and Detroit’s new police radios were proving to be highly successful in the fight against crime.2 Nationally, the U.S. Senate was about to pass a 1 percent income tax cut resolution, and the date marked the 130th anniversary of George Washington’s death. There was so much to celebrate and be grateful for. It was Christmastime and almost the end of a decade.

Among the crowds on the streets and sidewalks were people familiar to the young officer. Fred and Leona Ludwig noticed Officer Skelly when they exited one of the downtown stores. Mingling for a moment, the three continued walking for the distance of a pleasant conversation and then went their separate ways, offering a wave to each other as they did. At 25-yearsold and still a bachelor, the ruggedly fetching Charles Skelly worked 12-hour shifts, sometimes seven days a week, which made romance difficult. Bevies of beauties were always within sight around a man in uniform, yet Skelly had become aware of a special girl, Mildred Thar, a 20-year-old brunette with a smile that could make any male “dizzy with a dame.” Mildred shared an apartment with her sisters, Belle, Caroline, and Gladys, at 607 Broad Street in the Freund Building, across from the police and fire station. Skelly could not help gazing at Mildred any time she was around. The attraction must have been mutual because the two began a courtship. Mildred worked at the Williams Box Factory just a few blocks away and looked forward to running into her handsome boy in blue. On that busy night, he walked his beat, the ashy flame from his cigarette visible as he took sight of others walking hand in hand. He may have  thought about the day when he would marry…maybe Mildred.

The atmosphere of downtown St. Joseph was magical that night. A Christmas tree adorned the corner of State and Pleasant Streets where Santa Claus hollered his greetings. Storefronts displayed the latest fashions to entice the ever so tempted consumer. Men in overcoats and fedoras noticed a group of young women who were pointing out the newest lingerie that you “step into.” Who could resist the “silken wisps of loveliness,” as Gilmore Brothers described their stockings? They cost $2 a pair.

By 7:00 p.m., darkness covered the city, but flickers of candlelight and sidewalk lamps lit up the streets. The whistling wind wafting around lampposts created dust swirls on the sidewalks and ripples over the wool-adorned shoppers. A jettisoned piece of velvet ribbon floated to the ground and curled, as if seeking a package to adorn. The dull roar of Lake Michigan only two blocks away grumbled like a machine, dark and ominous. Officer Skelly kept watch, like the lighthouse stationed at the end of the pier to keep all who enter the harbor safe. He lifted a cigarette to his lips and inhaled, the bright amber glow reflected in the store window on the corner where he stood, just as the lighthouse beacon illuminated the harbor. Skelly heard the giggles of several young boys and girls approaching. He pointed out Santa Claus, much to their delight and his own.

As the clock hands pointed to 25 minutes past seven, the sudden blaring of a car horn drowned out the distant sounds of sleigh bells. Skelly turned toward the sound and saw a man driving a Chevy Coach, hailing his assistance.The vehicle pulled up along the southeast corner of State and Broad Streets where Skelly had been walking his beat. Listening to the excited story of the driver, Skelly had no idea he had just stepped into a role in a Shakespearian tragedy about to unfold.

Skelly approached the car and leaned in to the driver, who rambled the numbers six, five, seven, one, zero, six. While reaching for his notepad, Skelly interrupted, “Sir, please calm down and start at the beginning.” The man explained that they had been involved in a fender bender on U.S. Highway 12 back by Cleveland Avenue and said the man driving the car that hit them was very drunk. Taking notes, Skelly interrupted once again to ask some basic questions. The driver finally identified himself and the occupants of the car, apologizing for being flustered.

“I’m Forrest Kool from Buchanan and this here’s my wife, Laverne, with our three-month-old daughter, Joyce,” he said, while gesturing in the direction of each person. “In back is my mother-in-law, Hattie Carlson, and brother-in-law, Harold.”

Skelly took note that Harold was only about 10 years old. He nodded and then asked Kool to tell him what happened.

The 22-year-old Kool explained that they had been Christmas shopping and were on their way home to rural Weesaw Township, driving south on U.S. Highway 12, when he noticed a Hudson coupe driving toward them in the same lane, near the intersection of Cleveland Avenue. Seeing that the oncoming vehicle was not moving back into its own lane, Kool abruptly swerved his Chevy off onto the shoulder but still took a direct impact in the side rear fender, jarring his passengers. After making sure everyone was safe, he turned around to see the Hudson slow and pull over about a quarter mile down the road behind them. Kool managed to pull his car, which was no longer drivable, into the driveway of the home belonging to Dr. Charles W. Merritt. Kool got out of the car and waved down a couple in a passing Chevy, who he figured had seen the accident. The driver pulled over and introduced himself as Edward Rupp of Union Pier. Kool hopped onto the running board of Rupp’s Chevy and they drove the short distance to the Hudson, which had come to a stop near the St. Joseph Auto Camp, across from LaSalle Street.

Rupp pulled in front of the Hudson and Kool stepped off the running board. The Hudson appeared to be new, and Kool took note that it had an orange Indiana license plate, number 657-106. The car had slight scuffing and a small dent in the front quarter-panel, where it had hit Kool’s fender. He walked up to the driver’s side, boldly opened the door, and confronted the man sitting inside, “What do you mean by running into me like that?”

“Hit your car?” the man slurred, looking puzzled. Kool realized the driver was clearly intoxicated. “Well, why don’t you drive it over here so I can look at the damage,” he mumbled.

“Well, the fender is bent in against the tire so I can’t drive it,” Kool explained. “Why don’t you come with me and see for yourself?”

The intoxicated driver attempted to get out of his car but hesitated for a moment as if getting his bearings. It was then that he apparently noticed Rupp standing next to Kool. This seemed to make him nervous because once again he asked Kool, “Why don’t you drive yer car over?” apparently forgetting that he had already suggested that.

Not interested in dealing with the intoxicated man, Rupp drove away. The man seemed quite relieved. Just then, another car slowed down and stopped. The driver, William Lohraff of Berrien Springs, asked if they needed any help. Kool waved him off, and Lohraff continued on his way.

The intoxicated man managed to struggle to his feet. He took a few steps, stopped, and turned to look at his car for a moment, but then joined Kool, who was walking south toward his Chevy, where his family still sat. The intoxicated man seemed to stagger more than walk the quarter-mile distance. Kool took note that he wore a cap, light buff-colored sweater, and dark pants, but no coat. His face was rosy from inebriation and he reeked of alcohol. He was all of 200 pounds, tall, with a small dark mustache and manicured nails; he was well groomed but missing a front tooth. Kool thought the man acted polite, but noticed that he talked somewhat brokenly. Kool wondered if he was from another part of the country, but considered that perhaps the missing tooth was the cause.

The man then said, “You know, I was on my way to pick up my wife at the train station.”

Trying to avoid being downwind of the foul-smelling man, Kool showed him where he had swerved and finally where the car ended up. Laverne and her mother peered through the car windows at the tall stranger. Their piercing shouts penetrated the windows, even when rolled up. Worried that they were agitating the man, Kool quickly interrupted, “Shut up. I’ve got this under control.”

Looking puzzled, both women complied. The man glanced at the women as he tried to keep his balance but hardly reacted to them. He let out a belch and rocked back on his heels.

Both men looked over the damage. Kool asked the man if he would help pull out the fender so he could drive home. With a few tugs, they managed to wrench the fender from the tire.

“You know, there’s a repair shop up the road,” the intoxicated man managed to say. “I’ll show you where. Follow me.”

Kool sighed, knowing that a repair shop would be closed on a Saturday night. “Look,” he replied, “I’ll have to get a new fender and probably a new tire, so I’ll settle for $25.”

Calling him to the side of the road near some trees, the intoxicated man reached into his pocket and pulled out a large roll of bills. He thumbed through them, telling Kool, “Sorry, but I don’t have ‘nuff small bills to make change.”

Frustrated, Kool backed away from him. “If you’re not interested in settling this, it really doesn’t matter. Either way, you are not fit to drive in your condition and I am going to have to report this to the police.”

“Do whatever you have to do,” the man unsympathetically replied as he put the roll of bills back in his pocket.

Being a proper gentleman, Kool offered the other driver a ride on the running board, back to his Hudson, so that they could make their way to the police station. However, it became clear that the man was too drunk to manage that, so Kool was satisfied that he chose to walk. Kool turned his Chevy around, drove ahead of the Hudson, and waited. Once the intoxicated man reached his car, Kool watched as he fell into the driver’s seat and—remarkably—was able to start up the vehicle and pull forward. Driving by the St. Joseph Auto Camp, he blew the horn, and then passed Kool’s Chevy. Then he blew his horn again, apparently signaling Kool to pass. Kool pulled around him and turned onto State Street in hopes of finding a police officer, but the intoxicated man in the Hudson kept blowing the horn. Unsure whether something was wrong or the man had suddenly reconsidered paying for the damage, Kool stopped about two blocks south of the Caldwell Theater on State Street to find out what his problem was. Laverne urged him to stay in the car, but instead Kool got out and walked up to the driver’s side of the Hudson. The window was already rolled down, and the stench of alcohol wafted out.

“You’ve been blowing the horn the last half mile,” Kool said. “What’s the problem?”

“I’ve been following you, I don’t have any problem,” the driver replied. He then gave a few toots of the horn and smiled as if amused.

Shaking his head, Kool returned to his car, but before he reached it, he saw the Hudson speed down a side street and vanish. He realized that the drunk had duped him.

A simple Christmas shopping trip to St. Joseph had become much more complicated for the Kool family. Now with a dented fender and a drunk driver on the streets, Forrest Kool hoped to notify the authorities so the family could be on their way home once again. He started blowing his horn at the intersection of State Street and Market Street in an attempt to find a policeman and spotted Officer Charles Skelly, just a block away, standing at the corner near Broad Street.

Just as he had finished explaining their misadventure to the police officer, Laverne Kool noticed the Hudson pass by. “There he goes,” she blurted, while pointing to get the officer’s attention.
Skelly looked up in time to recognize a familiar face behind the wheel. He was the new guy in town, Skelly realized. He grabbed hold of Kool’s doorframe, hopped on the running board, and hollered, “Follow him.”

Excited to be on a chase with a police officer, Kool drove north about two blocks on State Street and then came to a stop behind the Hudson at the intersection of Ship Street, where the driver had stopped for a red light. Skelly jumped off Kool’s running board, ran a few car lengths to the Hudson, and climbed up on the driver’s side running board.

Skelly leaned his head into the open window to confront the driver. “Better pay the money and save going to court,” he suggested. This was routine business and Skelly knew the script.

Several people in the area had taken notice of the activity. Pere Marquette Bridge tender Lawrence Terry, standing in front of the Jefferson Poolroom at the corner of Ship and State, had heard Skelly blow his whistle and saw the Hudson come to a stop. St. Joseph police officer Arthur Truhn, also on foot patrol, had watched Skelly jump off the Chevy and run toward the Hudson.1 Phil Daly, Ted Lucker, and Adam Ehrenberg had all seen Skelly climb on the Hudson’s running board. Gustav Getz also saw what was taking place from his vantage point a few blocks away. Just a cop doing his job, it must have appeared to all of them.

Allowing other vehicles to pass, Skelly signaled back at Kool, motioning for him to follow. Skelly would direct the man to the police station in order to sort this all out. When the traffic light turned green at Ship and State, the Hudson and the Chevy turned the corner heading east and then made a right on Main Street heading for the police station. They passed Charles L. Miller’s Garage with Skelly still riding on the running board. The Kools followed behind by about 20 feet. As both vehicles approached the intersection of Main and Broad, just within sight of the Freund Building apartments where Skelly’s gal, Mildred Thar, lived, the traffic light turned red.

Puffs of exhaust mixed with Skelly’s breath as he glanced up toward her apartment. There in the second-floor window he saw her silhouette illuminated by a light. She must have heard the commotion. Mildred saw Charles and waved. Skelly smiled back, keeping his hands on the doorframe, but he lingered for a moment in her smile. Here he was in action for Mildred to see and he must have been proud. As the opposing traffic light transitioned from green to yellow, Skelly redirected his attention to the man behind the wheel. He pointed ahead, instructing him to pull over by the station just beyond the intersection. Mildred walked away from the window, probably impressed by the strapping Skelly.

When the light turned green, traffic began to move north and south, but the Hudson sat idling. Staring straight ahead toward the endless roadway, the driver loosened his grip on the steering wheel. Skelly bent down to look into the vehicle.

From a car length behind, Kool watched the man through the Hudson’s large glass rear window, his head fully visible. What is he waiting for? Kool thought. He then saw the man lean to his left.

With eyes blurred from alcohol, his mind consumed with fear, the driver of the Hudson grabbed for his Colt .45-caliber pistol in the side pocket of the door and took aim at his obstacle to freedom.

Officer Charles Skelly found himself face to face with the barrel of a pistol and the cold eyes of a killer. A secret kept for the last 10 months was about to be revealed along the brick boulevard.


http://in-deptheditions.com/press/?page_id=220

08 February 2020

ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE CONNECTION TO SOUTHWESTERN MICHIGAN

BUNGALOW RESIDENCE IN STEVENSVILLE


Bungalow residence in Stevensville, Michigan, thought to be that of Fred Dane, however on December 14, 1929, after St. Joseph Police Officer Charles Skelly was gunned down, it was learned that Fred Dane was actually Fred "Killer" Burke. Residence is located on Red Arrow Highway south of Glenlord Road on the east side of road. Structure is still standing, however has been converted over to the business of Coldwell Banker Real Estate.

 WEAPONS CACHE


When Deputies made entry into the residence of Fred "Killer" Burke, they forced open a locked upstairs closet and found:
Two Thompson machine guns w/ Nine ammunition drums - One gun was assembled, loaded and ready for instant use while the other was in a black suitcase
Five 100-shot .45 caliber drums loaded, many other smaller drums
Three 20-shot clips
Two high powered rifles, one was Winchester .350 automatic, other was Savage .303
One sawed off shotgun with pistol grip
Two bags of ammunition estimated at 5,000 shells
½ dozen fruit jars and tin cans filled with misc. ammunition, including smokeless shotgun shells, shells loaded with iron slugs and small shot.
½ dozen tear gas bombs
In addition to the arsenal, deputies found trap doors, several disguises, well-thumbed detective novels and $390,000 worth of stolen bonds from a Jefferson, Wisconsin Bank.

Sheriff Fred Bryant and Deputy Charles Andrews pose wearing bulletproof vests from the Burke residence and brandishing two weapons also confiscated, including one of the Tommy Guns.
WANTED MAN

Wanted Poster put out by the Michigan State Police for Fred "Killer" Burke in 1929.
FORENSIC INNOVATIONS

Colonel Calvin H. Goddard, first Director of privately funded scientific crime detection laboratory which later became the Chicago Police Department Crime Lab as a result
of St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Calvin Goddard examining a weapon

HISTORY TODAY

Berrien County Sheriff's Office Historian and 911 Quality Assurance Supervisor Chriss Lyon holding one of two Thompson Sub-Machine Guns seized from the Stevensville
residence of Fred "Killer" Burke on December 14, 1929. 
Photo by John Madill, The Herald-Palladium, October, 2006.

Fred "Killer" Burke house in 2008, now home of Coldwell Banker.
 Photo by Chriss Lyon, 2008
One of the Thompson sub-machine guns, bulletproof vest and drum magazine, 2019.


03 February 2020

'Joe Baker' gunned down on Belmont Ave.

On this date in 1931:

Mafia gunmen working for Castellammarese insurrection leader Salvatore Maranzano on February 3, 1931, ambushed Joseph "Joe the Baker" Catania in the Bronx. A key figure in the administration of boss of bosses Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, Catania was gunned down in front of a candy store at 2373 Belmont Avenue. He was struck by slugs in the head, neck and upper body. He was rushed to Fordham Hospital, where he died the following morning.

Catania
The Mafia's Castellammarese War had been raging for months. The devastating loss of Catania occurred at a time when Masseria was insisting that his loyalists disarm to avoid provoking police. Convinced that the disarmament strategy would cause them to quickly follow Catania to the grave, Masseria's lieutenants began plotting his assassination.

Joseph Catania, twenty-eight,* was a nephew of Masseria group leader Ciro "the Artichoke King" Terranova. The married father of two children, Catania lived at 2319 Belmont Avenue, about two blocks from the scene of his murder. He was known as "Joe the Baker" or "Joe Baker" because of his involvement in the bakery business since childhood.

Catania reportedly was well liked by New York Mafiosi, but somehow managed to deeply offend Maranzano. The rebel leader felt that Catania must be killed before the end of the war. Maranzano sent hit teams to known Catania hangouts in the neighborhood of Arthur Avenue and 187th Street. (The Catania family had a bakery at 2389 Arthur Avenue in this period and years earlier lived in an apartment above it. The address is now home to an Italian restaurant and apartments.) These teams were unable to locate their target.

Maranzano next negotiated with Frank Scalise of the Bronx, a recent convert to the rebel cause, to eliminate the Baker. After two weeks, Maranzano gave up hope of Scalise taking care of things. The Castellammarese leader stationed a team, including Salvatore "Sally" Shillitani, Nick Capuzzi, Joseph Valachi and Maranzano's top assassin Sebastiano "Buster" Domingo, in a top-floor apartment across narrow Belmont Avenue from an office known to be used by Catania. The office was just a two-minute walk from Catania's apartment but was in a busier and more commercial setting.

Valachi later wrote about the assignment in his autobiography, The Real Thing, recalling that he personally liked Catania but hid that fact from his boss Maranzano.

New York Times
From the apartment windows, the team was able to spot and track Catania. They watched him go through the same routine at about nine o'clock every morning except Sunday - he appeared at the office, picked up some money, then came out and quickly walked a short distance to the corner, rounded the corner and disappeared. Each morning for weeks, Domingo prepared to take a shot at Catania as he reached the corner, but Domingo was too high over the street and Catania visible for too short a time to do so reliably.

Valachi became aware that a first-floor apartment in the building was vacant. He suggested that the team burst into that apartment one morning and target Catania from its windows. Maranzano approved the plan.

At eight o'clock on the morning of February 3, 1931, Valachi used burglar tools to open the door of the first-floor apartment, and the team members entered with guns drawn. Three painters were at work inside. When they saw the gangsters, they believed they were being held up and offered their money.

Valachi recalled, "I told them that we did not want their money, just go on painting the way you were doing and everyone will be happy and no one will bother you." The painters, whose names and home addresses were released to the press, later told the police that the gangsters entered with their faces masked with black scarves.

The other team members set up, but Valachi claimed that it was his job to go outside and start the getaway car. (With this claim, Valachi removed himself from the actual shooting of Catania. Interestingly, Valachi did not mention getting the car ready at any of the other times that Domingo had Catania in his sights.) In addition to putting six slugs in Catania, the shooters put numerous holes in the front windows of the candy store and an adjacent butcher shop.

Valachi estimated that he was in the car less than a minute when his associates arrived there. He did not recall whether he heard the gunshots. During their escape, Shillitani told him about the shooting:

He [Shillitani] felt bad because Joe Baker came out of the office and as he reached the corner his wife met him and she handed him something and they kissed and he went the other way and the wife just stayed there and was watching him go when Buster had to shoot... Solly said that he saw the dust come out of Joe's coat as the bullets hit him in the back.

A crowd gathered around the fallen Catania. One of the first to him was taxi driver Daniel Stefano. Catania was loaded into Stefano's cab and driven to Fordham Hospital. The Baker died of his wounds at ten minutes to eight the next morning.

Police questioned Daniel Stefano, Catania friend Daniel Iamascia and Catania's wife Louisa, but could not figure out the killing.

Catania (right) and underworld associates John Savino (left) and Daniel Iamascia

The New York underworld gave Catania a magnificent send-off. Press reports estimated that his funeral cost as much as $35,000, with about $10,000 said to have been invested in his coffin. (The coffin was bronze, according to the New York Times. The New York Daily News reported that it was silver.)

News from Catania's wake reached Maranzano through his spies: Ciro Terranova reportedly stood by the coffin, placed one hand on it and the other hand high in the air, and swore to avenge the killing of his nephew.

"When the old man [Maranzano] heard about this," Valachi recalled, "he sent someone at the funeral parlor to see if there was a chance to get [Terranova] at the wake. Naturally it was a spy but word came that it was impossible to do anything."

The funeral procession on February 7 was watched by about 10,000 people. It reportedly took forty cars to carry the floral offerings of friends, family and associates. Dozens of mounted and foot police officers kept order along the route and dozens of plain clothes detectives mingled in the crowd.

A Roman Catholic Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated by three priests at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, about a block from the scene of the murder. Police frisked known crime figures, including Terranova, as they entered the church.

After the services, Catania's remains were placed temporarily in a crypt at Woodlawn Cemetery while a mausoleum was constructed at St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.


* Different records point to different birthdates for Joseph Catania, ranging from March 1900 to November 1902, but the most reliable available sources point to between September 29, 1902, and October 1, 1902.

Sources:
  • "10,000 at funeral of 'Joe the Baker,'" New York Times, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 30.
  • "Bail runner shot in street ambush," New York Times, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 11.
  • Birth records of Palermo, Italy, vol. 455, no. 108.
  • "Gang shots fatal to Joe the Baker," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 2.
  • "'Joe the Baker' dies of wounds," Brooklyn Standard Union, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Machine gun pair in Bronx riddle thug," New York Daily News, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 38.
  • Miley, Jack, "$35,000 funeral puts thug in last spot," New York Daily News, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 6.
  • New York State Census of 1905, New York County, Assembly District 32, Election District Special no. 3.
  • New York State Census of 1915, New York County, Assembly District 28, Election District 2.
  • New York State Census of 1925, Bronx County, Assembly District 7, Election District 45.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Trojan Prince, departed Palermo, Sicily, on April 15, 1903, arrived New York on May 1, 1903.
  • United States Census of 1910, New York State, New York County, Ward 12, Enumeration District 341.
  • United States Census of 1920, New York State, Bronx County, Assembly District 4, Enumeration District 393.
  • United States Census of 1930, New York State, Bronx County, Enumeration District 3-552.
  • Valachi, Joseph, The Real Thing - Second Government: The Expose and Inside Doings of Cosa Nostra by Joseph Valachi, Member Since 1930, unpublished manuscript, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, p. 323-328.
  • Van`t Riet, Lennert, David Critchley and Steve Turner, "Gunmen of the Castellammarese War - Part 5: A lifetime of tangling with the law: Salvatore 'Sally Shields' Shillitani," Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement, April 2013.
  • World War I Draft Registration Card, serial no. 3655, order no. 736, Local Board 17, New York City, Sept. 19, 1918.

02 February 2020

'Lucky' out of prison, held at Ellis Island

Authorities prepare to deport NY Mafia boss

On this date in 1946:

New York Mafia boss Salvatore "Charlie Lucky Luciano" Lucania, age forty-eight, was removed from temporary custody at Sing Sing Prison on February 2, 1946, and placed in a holding area at Ellis Island, as authorities prepared to deport him to his native Italy.

Lucania
Lucania, leader of a powerful crime family (later known as the Genovese Family) and one of the architects of the Mafia's national Commission, was convicted about nine and a half years earlier on sixty-two counts of compulsory prostitution. On June 18, 1936, he was sentenced to a prison term of thirty to fifty years.

The case that put Lucania behind bars was handled by then-Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey also was responsible for Lucania's release. Entering the final year of his first term as New York governor, Dewey on January 3, 1946, commuted the remainder of Lucania's sentence on the condition that he be deported to Italy.

The governor issued a statement relating to the commutation, which revealed that the imprisoned Lucania rendered some sort of assistance to the U.S. military during World War II:

Luciano is deportable to Italy. He was a leader of a syndicate which supervised and gave orders relating to the operation of a vice combine which "booked" women for houses of prostitution and provided other service incidental to the operation of houses of prostitution. He has previously been convicted of the possession of drugs. Upon the entry of the United States into the war, Luciano's aid was sought by the armed services in inducing others to provide information concerning possible enemy attack. It appears that he cooperated in such effort, though the actual value of the information provided is not clear. His record in prison is reported as wholly satisfactory.

Wild stories quickly grew out of the news of Lucania's aid to the military. Just a few days after Dewey's statement, a New York Daily News entertainment page featured an article that claimed Lucania was single-handedly responsible for saving the lives of countless American servicemen. The article, by Robert Sylvester, quoted an unnamed underworld source:

Remember the Sicily campaign was one of the easiest of the war? Well, Charley made it that way. He turned over a whole Cloak & Dagger Crew which worked before and during the invasion. You can thank Charley Lucky for saving thousands and thousands of American lives.

Dewey
Some questioned Dewey's motivation for commuting Lucania's sentence. (The state administration conducted an investigation of its own decision-making.) Some years later, it was suggested that Lucania had obtained damaging information against Dewey. An autobiography of narcotics agent Sal Vizzini claimed that, while in exile, Lucania boasted about that: "I had a whole damned battery of lawyers. I told them I didn't care what it cost but I wanted them to dig into Dewey's background. They came up with a pile of information on him that might have put his ass in the can..."

SIx days after Governor Dewey's sentence commutation, Lucania was transfered from Great Meadow State Prison in the upstate New York hamlet of Comstock (just east of Lake George) to Sing Sing Prison at Ossining, about thirty miles from New York City.

The Board of Parole approved Lucania's release for the purpose of deportation on February 2. Immigration and Naturalization agents took custody of him on that date and brought him to the federal immigration facility at Ellis Island. While at Ellis Island, he was permitted to visit briefly with underworld associates Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello and Michael Lascari and with attorney Moses Polakoff.

His stay on the island lasted less than a week. He was taken to Brooklyn and put aboard the S.S. Laura Keene at Pier 7 of the Bush Terminal on February 8. The ship's departure was delayed by bad weather, but she sailed for Italy on February 10, reaching Naples seventeen days later.

Read the details of Lucania's imprisonment and release:
"When 'Lucky' was locked up," The American Mafia, mafiahistory.us

Sources:
  • Abrams, Norma, "Poor Italy: Defeat and now, Luciano!" New York Daily News, Feb. 9, 1946, p. 3.
  • "Charles Luciano, Anti-Racketeering," translations of Italian language articles appearing in the Jan. 11, Jan. 18 and Jan. 25, 1959, issues of L'Europeo magazine, FBI memo, Feb. 18, 1959.
  • Conroy, E.E., FBI teletype, file no. 39-2141-5, Feb. 26, 1946.
  • Conroy, E.E., FBI teletype, file no. 39-2141-6, Feb. 27, 1946.
  • Conroy, E.E., Letter to Mr. Hoover, Charles Luciano FBI file, no. 39-2141-8, March 1, 1946.
  • "Dewey commutes Luciano sentence," New York Times, Jan. 4, 1946, p. 25.
  • "A French payment," editorial, Brooklyn Citizen, Jan. 5, 1942, p. 4.
  • Herlands, William B., Report of the Commissioner of Investigation to Governor Thomas E. Dewey, Sept. 17, 1954.
  • Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), U.S. Senate, 81st Congress 2nd Session and 82nd Congress 1st Session, Part 7, Meyer Lansky testimony of Feb. 14, 1951, p. 606-607.
  • "'Lucky' Luciano to be paroled and deported," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 3, 1946, p. 1.
  • Rosen, A., "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano," FBI memorandum to E.A. Tamm, file no. 39-2141-39, May 17, 1946.
  • "Salvatore Lucania...," FBI report NY 62-8768, file no. 39-2141-9, May 5, 1946.
  • Sylvester, Robert, "A B'way hoodlum lives a melodrama nobody would write," New York Daily News, Jan. 8, 1946, p. 27.
  • Vizzini, Sal, with Oscar Fraley and Marshall Smith, Vizzini: The Story of America's No, 1 Undercover Narcotics Agent, New York: Pinnacle, 1972, p. 77.

01 February 2020

Death of Police Officer in 1927 finally being recognized in Washington DC

I was honored recently by St. Joseph Department of Public Safety (Michigan) Director Steven Neubecker for my contributions to the history of the department through my research and writing. My 2014 published true crime novel, "A Killing in Capone's Playground: The True Story of the Hunt for the Most Dangerous Man Alive" highlighted the story of Officer Charles Skelly, who was killed in the line of duty by St. Valentine's Day Massacre hit man, Fred "Killer" Burke on December 14, 1929. However, Skelly was not the first officer to meet his fate on the job. Officer Francis LaMunion had started his job as a motorcycle officer in the spring of 1927, where he likely took up a friendship with Charles Skelly. Both men were 23-years old and had the desire to fight the illegal bootleggers who found their way into the city. Sadly, Officer LaMunion suffered serious injuries one day in June 1927, while chasing after a speeding bootlegger. LaMunion crashed into the back of a laundry truck at 50 mph and was thrown from his motorcycle. Doctors could do little for him and he died the next day of massive internal injuries.


Francis LaMunion, 1927
 
Charles Skelly, 1929
While researching the lives of the other officers included on the Berrien County Law Enforcement Memorial, I realized that Francis LaMunion's name was missing from the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington DC. With the help of Director Neubecker, we were able to contact the proper officials and send them the various newspaper articles that proved his death was related to injuries suffered while on duty. Two years later, it was announced that Francis LaMunion will be included on the national memorial and revealed on May 13, 2020, in Washington DC, 93 years after his death.

Having a law enforcement background and serving 25 years as a 911 Supervisor for the County of Berrien, I could not be prouder and more honored to play even a small role in seeing this through. Officer Francis LaMunion gave his life for the purpose of keeping our community safe and making sure that the bootleggers were not welcome.

I hope that the value of our research and commitment to telling true stories of the past will educate others about the Roaring Twenties and subsequent decades.

19 January 2020

St. Louis's Pillow Gang gets their quirky name

Ninety-two years ago tonight, a triple shooting in St. Louis's Dogtown neighborhood gave one of the city's three Mafia factions one of the more quirky nicknames in American criminal history. The main target of the attack, a powerful mafiùsu named Charlie Fresina, was struck by a .45 caliber submachine gun bullet in his lower hip. In the preceding weeks as he recovered, Fresina used a pillow to cushion his rear end when he sat down, leading sarcastic St. Louis police to dub his crew "The Pillow Gang."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Mafia dicìna (crew) that would eventually be known as the "Pillow Gang" got its start in the early 1910s as a small-time Black Hand extortion ring run by Pasquale Santino, a Sicilian immigrant who used threatening letters to separate wealthy Italian businessmen from their money. After a series of arrests, Santino left St. Louis briefly and worked as a railroad foreman in eastern Ohio. After returning to town around the start of Prohibition, Santino began putting a crew of tough Sicilian mobsters together; like Pasquale himself, most of them were from the southern province of Girgenti (modern-day Agrigento). The one exception was Charlie Fresina.

Born Carmelo Frisina in 1892 in Castiglione di Sicilia, a small town located in the shadow of northeastern Sicily's Mount Etna, he immigrated to America at the age of sixteen. Frisina worked his way up from a vegetable peddler to a steamship agent and from there into the local Mafia. As he and the Santino crew began making big money in the illegal alcohol business, Frisina anglicized his name to Charles Fresina in order to shield his wife and children from his criminality. He would also later use the alias of "Freese" (pronounced Free-zee). Fresina was brilliant and industrious, quickly working his way into the number-two position in Santino's dicìna. By the early 1920s, the Santino crew had joined forces with the so-called "Green Ones," a crew of ex-Black Handers from western Palermo province led by Vito Giannola and Alfonse Palazzolo, to wrench control of St. Louis's Mafia family away from incumbent boss Dominick Giambrone.

In the aftermath of their victory, the Green Ones appropriated leadership of the family for themselves, with Giannola becoming càpu (boss) and Palazzolo suttacàpu (underboss). Their actions immediately created tension with the Santino crew. Also now added to the mix was a bootlegging gang headed by the Russo brothers, who were known as the "American Boys" because they were all native-born. While the St. Louis mob family had a traditional pyramidal leadership structure, the three different factions operated with a degree of autonomy not seen in other American Mafia groups of the era. Indeed, this peculiar arrangement led to constant bickering amongst the crew's leaders. Their organization as a whole suffered a big black eye in the view of other Mafia bosses around the country after losing a violent gang war to the South City-based Cuckoo Gang in 1926; Vito Giannola and the rest of the family's leaders were forced to give humiliating reparations to the Cuckoos as a condition of peace.

Their gangland defeat resulted in increased inter-family squabbling, as blame was shoved from faction to faction. The St. Louis Mafia inevitably devolved into civil war in the late summer of 1927 after two key members of the Russo Gang, Anthony "Shorty" Russo and Vincent Spicuzza, were lured to Chicago and killed by a Green Ones hit squad led by Alfonse Palazzolo. The Santino crew joined forces with the Russos to fight the Green Ones. Pasquale Santino was instrumental in luring Palazzolo to his demise at the hands of the Russos on Tenth Street, but he himself would die on November 17 after being shot in a grocery company office at Seventh and Carr streets. Police believed that he was killed by a Mafia assassin brought in from Chicago by the Green Ones specifically to do the deed.

Pasquale Santino (NARA)

The murders, nearly a dozen in all, continued throughout the fall. Three days after Christmas, two members of the Russo Gang caught Vito Giannola at his girlfriend's North City house, chased him into an attic crawlspace, and proceeded to empty a Thompson submachine gun into St. Louis's Mafia boss. Giannola's dramatic assassination momentarily put leadership of the family up for grabs. What follows is an excerpt from my 2010 book Gangs of St. Louis;


At the beginning of 1928, the Sicilian underworld was in a state of flux. The Russo Gang and its allies were waxing victorious after their decisive strike against the Greens. Fully aware that the war wasn't over yet, they stayed vigilant but were puzzled as the days rolled by with no retaliatory strikes from the opposition.

The Green Ones held a conference soon after Vito Giannola's funeral. John Giannola stepped down from his position in the crew, either by choice or with some persuasion. At this meeting, twenty-six-year-old Frank Agrusa was dubbed the new boss. Having spent many years under Vito's tutelage, Agrusa was a perfect choice. Learning from his predecessor's mistakes, Frankie knew that low profile was the way to go. While Vito liked to swagger down the street and let everyone know he was a gangster, Agrusa was the exact opposite. Frankie's new right-hand man was his longtime friend and partner Vito Impastato. Advising the new boss would be Tony Fasulo, who had taken Ben Amato's place as consigliere after Pasquale Santino's murder. Dominick Italiano replaced John Giannola as the Green Ones' East Side liquor distributor.

Despite these leadership changes, the Green Ones were depleted and demoralized. Most observers were unsure if they could prevail in a protracted shooting war, especially now that the deadly Tommy gun had been added to the mix. For the time being, they seemed to be out of the fight. Machiavellian twists and turns are at the core of any Mafia war, and the St. Louis strife was no different. The deception and double-crossing is limitless. While Charlie Fresina was ostensibly allied with the Russo Gang, he was going behind its back and extorting wealthy merchants connected to the Russos. When Jimmy Russo got word of Fresina's shenanigans, he promptly began planning his murder.

St. Louis gangster Jimmy Russo.


On the night of January 19, 1928, Fresina visited the Dogtown home of Charles Spicuzza at 6129 Clayton Avenue to exact a heavy tribute. The gang boss was backed up by Dominick Cataldo and Tony DiTrapani; the latter packed a sawed-off .12 gauge autoloader. A cousin of the late Vincent Spicuzza, Charles worked as the manager of the M. Longo Fruit Company on Commission Row, the store formerly owned by Charles Palmisano. While his wife and four children waited quietly in other parts of the house, Spicuzza talked with his visitors in the parlor and eventually gave Fresina over $1,000 cash.

Charles Spicuzza's home at 6129 Clayton Avenue as pictured in the St. Louis Star

A little after 10:00 p.m., the three men exited the front door and were just starting down the stairs when they noticed a strange Studebaker sedan at the curb. Even stranger was the fact that two men appeared to be sitting in their Chrysler sedan. One of the Santinos blurted, "Someone's in our car." Since the house sat high above the street, Fresina and his men couldn't clearly see the faces of the strangers. The mob boss immediately grabbed Spicuzza and forced him to walk down to the street to find out just who these fellows were.

The fruit merchant slowly walked down his steep steps with the Santinos trailing far behind him. When Spicuzza got close enough to recognize the familiar faces inside the Chrysler, he immediately broke right and ran for cover. As soon as he was clear, a fusillade of shotgun and submachine-gun fire erupted from the Chrysler. Fresina instantly turned to go back inside the house, only to be shot through the lower hip by a machine-gun round. DiTrapani was struck in the abdomen by the same stream of bullets (a slug chipped away the handle of a .38 revolver stuck in his belt). Tony spun around, stumbled inside the foyer and fell facedown on top of his unfired shotgun. Cataldo tried to follow Spicuzza but was hit by a .45 caliber bullet in his stomach.

The machine-gunner then exited the Chrysler and dashed up the stairs onto the porch. After strafing the fallen DiTrapani with a quick burst, he briefly scanned the house for any sign of Fresina. The mob boss suddenly popped around the corner of the living room wall and turned loose with a pistol. The machine-gunner briefly returned Fresina's fire and then, with his weapon either empty or jammed, quickly retreated down the steps. Charlie hobbled onto the porch and emptied his gun at his fleeing assailants, scoring a few hits on the parked Chrysler. Nevertheless, the killers made a successful getaway.

Police found Tony DiTrapani dead at the scene and Dominick Cataldo groaning in pain from a wound that soon proved fatal. Charlie Fresina was talking on the telephone in Sicilian when the cops arrived. The gangster stopped in mid-sentence and hung up, proclaiming that he didn't know who shot him. Charlie then went to the bathroom to wash him wound. Charles Spicuzza denied that he was being extorted, saying that he and Fresina had met to discuss the sale of some apples. Police initially suspected that the Green Ones were responsible; it wasn't until much later that they discovered that the true culprits were the Russo Gang. Now, all three Mafia factions were at war with one another.

Carmelo Frisina in a formal portrait taken not long after the shooting. Visible on the lower right side of the photo is the corner of the pillow in question. 

Postscript

Charlie Fresina eventually recovered from his wound and resumed his place at the head of the "Pillow Gang." Fresina often held court with his men at a Central West End restaurant at 8 South Sarah Street run by Armando Pacini. The mob boss would make headlines in August 1929 after firing a shotgun at federal agents who were in the process of raiding his Semple Avenue home. A year later, Fresina would be convicted of assault with intent to kill and sentenced to prison time. Just before he was due to head to jail, on May 8, 1931, Fresina was found shot to death behind the wheel of his car in an isolated forested area outside of Edwardsville, Illinois.

Dominick Cataldo and Tony DiTrapani were buried side-by-side in St. Louis's Calvary Cemetery.

Jimmy Russo continued his attempts to avenge the murder of his younger brother Shorty. Six months after the Dogtown ambush, Russo was lured to a meeting with the ostensibly neutral Cuckoo Gang in a disused chicken yard at Plymouth and Sutter avenues in what is now Wellston, Missouri. The Cuckoos sprung a ferocious trap and shot Russo and Mike Longo to death. Their companion, Jack Griffin, was wounded six times but managed to survive the attack.

Charles Spicuzza was reportedly inducted into the St. Louis family and worked as a bail bondsman for a number of years. Police questioned him after the May 1946 murder of Alma Ahlheim, who was reportedly Spicuzza's girlfriend; the mobster was apparently upset that she was seeing other men behind his back. No charges were filed. Spicuzza died of natural causes on January 19, 1978, the fiftieth anniversary of the shooting which gave the Pillow Gang its name.

Sources 

Waugh, Daniel. Gangs of St. Louis: Men of Respect. The History Press. 2010.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 20, 1928, May 17, 1946, January 22, 1978.

St. Louis Star, January 20, 1928.