01 September 2021

NYC revolutions in policing and in crime

Press release:

Chilling and thought-provoking, John Oller's Rogues' Gallery (available September 21, 2021, in hardcover and ebook formats) is an epic saga of two revolutions playing out on the streets of New York City during the Gilded Age, each one dependent on the other.

For centuries, New York had been a haven of crime. A thief or murderer not caught in the act nearly always got away. But in the early 1870s, an Irish cop by the name of Thomas Byrnes developed new ways to catch criminals. Mug shots and daily line-ups helped witnesses point out culprits; the fames rogues' gallery allowed police to track repeat offenders; and the third-degree interrogation method induced recalcitrant cooks to confess. Byrnes worked cases methodically, interviewing witnesses, analyzing crime scenes, and developing theories that helped close the books on previously unsolvable crimes.

Yet as policing became ever more specialized and efficient, criminals found new ways to ply their trade. Robberies became bolder and more elaborate, murders grew more ruthless and macabre, and the street gangs of old transformed into hierarchical criminal enterprises, giving birth to organized crime, including the Mafia. As the decades unfolded, corrupt cops and clever criminals at times blurred together, giving way to waves of police reform at the hands of leaders like Theodore Roosevelt.

Rogues Gallery encompasses unforgettable characters such as:

  • Marm Mendelbaum, a matronly German-immigrant woman who paid off cops and politicians to protect her empire of fencing stolen goods.
  • "Clubber" Williams, a sadistic policeman who wielded a twenty-six-inch club against suspects, whether they were guilty or not.
  • Danny Driscoll, the murderous leader of the Irish Whyos Gang and perhaps the first crime boss of New York.
  • Big Tim Sullivan, the corrupt Tammany Hall politician who shielded the Whyos from the law.
  • The suave Italian Paul Kelly and the thuggish Jewish gang leader Monk Eastman, whose rival crews engaged in brawls and gunfights all over the Lower East Side.
  • Joe Petrosino, a Sicilian-born detective who brilliantly pursued early Mafioso and Black Hand extortionists until a fateful trup back to his native Italy.

With impeccable research that leaves no stone unturned, Oller dispels the many myths that have survived with these stories, while proving that truth is often stranger than fiction. Rogues Gallery is a colorful and captivating history in the bustling streets of Old New York, from the beginnings of big-city police work to the rise of the Mafia. With its extremes of plutocratic wealth, tenement property, and rising social unrest, the story of crime and punishment in New York's Gilded Age echoes for our own time.

John Oller is a retired Wall Street attorney, and author of critically acclaimed biographies of figures such as Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, Hollywood actress Jean Arthur, and Civil War socialite Kate Chase Sprague. He lives on New York's Upper West Side.

The principle text, maps and images of Rogue's Gallery consume about 400 pages. An additional 80-plus pages is used for endnotes and bibliography. The index runs 19 more pages. The book is being released through the Dutton imprint of Penguin Random House. As of this writing, preorder price on Amazon.com is $27.99 for hardcover and $16.99 for Kindle-compatible ebook.

28 July 2021

FBI gives post-Brasco warning to 'Sonny Black'

On this date in 1981...

FBI Special Agents Doug Fencl, Jim Kinne and Jerry Loar visited Motion Lounge, a nightclub and Bonanno Crime Family headquarters at 420 Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in late July of 1981 (the specific date is in doubt).  They pulled Bonanno capodecina Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano aside and revealed that Special Agent Joseph D. Pistone had successfully infiltrated Napolitano's organization as part of the "Donnie Brasco" undercover operation.

FBI agents Loar, Kinne and Fencl (left to right)
leaving Motion Lounge.


According to Pistone's book, Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, the encounter occurred on July 28. Pistone wrote that the agents showed Napolitano a photograph of Pistone in the company of several fellow federal agents. As the photograph was shown, the agents asked Napolitano, "Do you know this guy? He's an FBI agent. We just wanted to tell you."

Napolitano had known and confided in Pistone - believing him to be jewel thief Brasco - for months. But he remained poised in front of the other agents and replied, "I don't know him, but if I meet him, I'll know he's an FBI agent."

Pistone could only have heard of this encounter second-hand. Fencl, who was actually there, recalled it differently for his testimony in the 2004 trial of Bonanno boss Joseph Massino. He placed the encounter two days later, July 30.

Motion Lounge


"I asked [Napolitano] if he knew Donnie Brasco and Tony Rossi, and he said that he did, and I told him they were FBI agents," Fencl testified. "I told him I wanted to make sure of his safety and that he was going to have a potential problem with the Bonanno Crime Family"

Fencl offered Napolitano his business card, hoping that he would contact Fencl and agree to cooperate with law enforcement. Napolitano refused, saying, "You know better than anybody that I can't take that, but I know how to get a hold of you."

Napolitano
According to Fencl, he brought along a photograph of Pistone and several other agents just in case Napolitano needed proof that the man he knew as Brasco was actually an agent. In his testimony, Fencl did not indicate whether the photograph was actually used.

Despite the government warning, Napolitano made no effort to protect himself. After Fencl, Kinne and Loar left the lounge, he scrambled to inform Mafia higher-ups of the possible infiltration and to locate the man he knew as Brasco. Napolitano was soon murdered by his underworld colleagues - under orders from rapidly rising Bonanno leader Massino - for taking the undercover agent into his orbit as a crime family associate. Late in the year, Napolitano was called to a meeting with bosses. He did not return.

Picked up in Brooklyn by mobster Frank Lino, he was driven to a house in Staten Island and murdered in the cellar. According to later testimony, two gunmen were assigned to perform the killing. One fired a less-than-fatal shot, and the other's gun jammed. Before a fatal shot was fired, Napolitano was heard to say, "Hit me one more time, and make it good." In the summer of 1982, Napolitano's badly decomposed body, minus its hands, was found wrapped in a city mortuary bag in woods near a creek in western Staten Island. Identification of the remains took considerable time because of the decomposition. A medical examiner reporting to the scene of the body's discovery was unable even to determine its sex.

The Brasco operation began in 1976 as an effort to penetrate the "fences" who processed stolen goods for organized crime families in New York. Special Agent Pistone first encountered Bonanno members in front of a mob social club on Madison Street in lower Manhattan. He gained the trust of Manhattan-based Bonanno soldier Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero and his immediate superior Napolitano.

Pistone
During the operation, Pistone participated in underworld rackets - fencing of stolen goods, gambling, loansharking - and learned of gangland murders. When pressure was put on him to participate in a murder, the FBI ended the operation. Through his undercover work, the FBI gained information on a Bonanno Crime Family civil war that included the assassination of leader Carmine Galante and the later killings of three rebellious group leaders, Alphonse Indelicato, Philip Giaccone and Dominick Trinchera. The Bureau also learned of relationships between elements of the Bonanno organization and crime families as far off as Florida and Wisconsin.

Donnie Brasco's true identity was publicly revealed for the first time in the federal racketeering conspiracy trial of Ruggiero and four other defendants in the summer of 1982. Judge Robert W. Sweet refused a prosecution request to allow the agent to testify only under his code name, finding that doing so would hamper defendants' ability to cross examine the primary witness against them. Pistone took the witness stand on August 2, 1982. His testimony focused on four of the five defendants. All four were convicted on August 27. The fifth defendant - charged on the basis of informant testimony - was acquitted. Ruggiero, then fifty-six, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for racketeering conspiracy including three murders.

Sources:

  • DeStefano, Anthony M., "Hardened felon chokes up on stand," Newsday, May 27, 2004, p. 22.
  • Lubasch, Arnold H., "3 of 5 convicted of conspiracy in 'Bonanno Family' rackets," New York Times, Aug. 28, 1982, p. 1.
  • Lubasch, Arnold H., "6 get jail terms in rackets case tied to mobsters," New York Times, Nov. 16, 1982, p. B1.
  • Lubasch, Arnold H., "Defense assails agent's actions in Mob inquiry," New York Times, Aug. 6, 1982, p. B1.
  • Lubasch, Arnold H., "F.B.I. agent, dropping disguise, tells court of life inside the Mob," New York Times, Aug. 3, 1982, p. 1.
  • Lubasch, Arnold H., "F.B.I. infiltrator says Mob chief told of slayings," New York Times, Aug. 4, 1982, p. B1.
  • McPhee, Michele, "'Brasco's long wait," New York Daily News, Jan. 19, 2003, p. 10.
  • Pistone, Joseph D., with Richard Woodley, Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, New York: NAL, 1987, pp. 363-368.
  • Schmetterer, Jerry, and Paul Meskil, with D.J. Saunders, "Victim was mobster who let fed agent in," New York Daily News, Nov. 16, 1982, p. 3.
  • Smith, Kati Cornell, "Brasco fiasco," New York Post, June 5, 2004.
  • Weiss, Murray, "Find body in a bag," New York Daily News, Aug. 13, 1982, p. 29.


14 June 2021

Spilotro bros killed by underworld colleagues

On this date in 1986...

Michael and Anthony Spilotro
Michael and Anthony Spilotro

Brothers Anthony "the Ant" Spilotro, forty-eight, and Michael Spilotro, forty-one, were murdered by underworld colleagues in the basement of a Bensenville, Illinois, home on Saturday, June 14, 1986. The brothers' remains were discovered buried in an Indiana corn field nine days later.

Nicholas Calabrese, an Outfit member who later turned informant, told authorities that the Spilotros were called to a June 14 mid-afternoon meeting with Chicago bosses. The brothers left Michael's Oak Park, Illinois, townhouse (1102 S. Maple Avenue) at about two o'clock and traveled in Michael's 1986 Lincoln Continental to their appointment. Reports indicate they were met by James Marcello, who brought them to the basement in Bensenville, a suburban DuPage County village adjacent to O'Hare International Airport.

The pretext for the meeting reportedly was the promotion of Michael Spilotro from Outfit associate to full member. The brothers had schemed against Outfit bosses and were apprehensive about the meeting. Michael told his wife if he wasn't back home by nine o'clock that night, "it was no good." But they went to their appointment unarmed.

Nicholas Calabrese

When the brothers arrived, they were attacked by Nicholas Calabrese and other mobsters. Years later, Calabrese recalled that James LaPietra, John Fecarotta, John "No Nose" DiFronzo, Sam "Wings" Carlisi, Louie "the Mooch" Eboli, James Marcello, Louis Marino, Joseph Ferriola and Ernest "Rocky" Infelise were present at that time. Calabrese asserted that he tackled Michael Spilotro and held his legs, while others beat and strangled him. Anthony Spilotro made a last request: for a moment to say a prayer. No one responded to his plea, and he was mercilessly beaten until he was dead.

Fecarotta and others were responsible for disposing of the brothers' remains. They drove the bodies about seventy-five miles southeast of Bensenville (sixty miles south of Chicago) to the outskirts of Enos, in Newton County, Indiana. There, the brothers' bodies, stripped down to their underwear, were buried on top of each other in a shallow grave in a recently planted corn field.

When Michael did not return home that night, his wife called police to report him missing. On the sixteenth, the Lincoln Continental was located at a Schiller Park motel near O'Hare. There was no indication that any struggle or violence had occurred within the car, and its doors were found locked. The next day, federal agents joined the search, as a fugitive arrest warrant was issued by a U.S. magistrate in Las Vegas for Anthony Spilotro. "The Ant" had been due to appear in a Las Vegas court on the seventeenth in preparation for a retrial on a burglary ring case.

Farmer Michael Kinz discovered a patch of freshly turned earth within his corn field at the Willow Slough wildlife preserve on June 23. He first thought that a poacher had covered up the carcass of a deer killed out of season. Kinz contacted Dick Hudson of the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, and they began digging. They discovered the human remains about three feet down. The Newton County Sheriff's Department was summoned.

Law enforcement reportedly identified the bodies using dental records. Autopsies on June 24 revealed that the Spilotros died of blunt force trauma to head, neck and chest, which the medical examiner attributed to punches and kicks, and asphyxiation due to hemorrhage. (The listing of asphyxiation as a cause of death prompted some in the news media to incorrectly conclude that the brothers had been buried alive. The medical examiner could not precisely relate the time of death to the time of burial but noted that asphyxiation was caused by the lungs filling with blood.) Toxicology reports indicated that they had consumed alcohol shortly before their deaths, giving rise to the speculation that they may have had drinks with the men who killed them. Each of the brothers was survived by a wife and three children.

On June 26, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago determined that the brothers should be denied church funeral services. That decision was made after the Rev. Thomas Paprocki, vice chancellor of the archdiocese, reviewed criminal information supplied by an undisclosed source. Father Paprocki indicated that the church refused to grant funerals to crime figures in order to avoid public scandal. But the denial itself turned into a scandal, as many in Chicago protested it and called attention to the church's willingness in the past to accept large financial contributions from Michael Spilotro. (Father Paprocki argued that cash contributions from known crime figures were sometimes rejected by the church and that donations generally did not result in public scandal as they were made privately.)

A service was conducted the next morning at the non-denominational Salerno Galewood Chapel funeral home on North Harlem Avenue. Numerous floral offerings filled the chapel and surrounded the two bronze coffins. The Rev. John Fearon of St. Bernardine's Roman Catholic Church in Forest Park, of which Michael was a member, delivered a homily. About 300 people attended the service. The chapel was closed to the press, but observers noted the presence of Anthony Spilotro's Vegas lieutenant Herbert Blitzstein and actor Robert Conrad. Following the service, the Spilotro brothers were buried at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

Background

The motives for the Spilotro murders were fairly well understood in 1986 and became more clear with the passage of time. As soon as their bodies were found, former FBI Special Agent William Roemer told the press, "[Anthony] Spilotro wasn't doing his job in Las Vegas. He maintained too high a profile there... He was under the glare of the harshest spotlight."

Anthony Spilotro

Anthony Spilotro, a "made" member of the Chicago Outfit since 1963, mismanaged Outfit affairs in Las Vegas and drew excessive attention upon himself, while attempting to enhance his own wealth and power. Rather than focus on quietly maintaining order and ensuring a lucrative and smoothly run skim operation, Spilotro insisted on engaging in more conventional and order-threatening rackets, such as extortion, burglary, loan sharking. His obvious criminal activity got him banned from Vegas casinos. His violent tendencies - he was linked with a number of murders but never convicted - caused some of his Vegas underlings, including Frank Cullotta, to seek protection from federal agents and become witnesses against Spilotro and Chicago underworld bosses. Outfit leader Joseph "Doves" Aiuppa was convicted and sentenced to prison in connection with skim operations, in large part because of scrutiny triggered by Spilotro. Reportedly, "the Ant's" fate was sealed when Aiuppa learned that Spilotro was having an affair with the wife of Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal.

An accomplished and innovative gambler, Rosenthal was responsible for managing Outfit investments in the Stardust and other Las Vegas casinos and maximizing the underworld's illegal "skim" siphoned off pretax casino income. Spilotro endangered important underworld relationships through the affair with Rosenthal's wife, and reportedly went so far as to plot the murder of Rosenthal himself. (Rosenthal also became a government informant, though his role, hidden by the codename "Achilles," was not exposed until after his 2008 death.) Spilotro and Rosenthal had been close friends in Chicago - "Lefty" reportedly once talked Fiore "Fifi" Buccieri out of murdering Spilotro - but their relationship quickly soured after their early 1970s arrival in Las Vegas.

In the 1980s, Spilotro became a favorite target for prosecutors. He faced charges of directing a burglary ring in 1980-1981. Prosecutions relating to his "Hole in the Wall Gang" continued for years. He was due to be retried on the matter in Nevada on the same day his body was discovered in the corn field. A 1986 prosecution for racketeering ended in an April 8, 1986, mistrial, but more charges loomed. He faced federal trial in Kansas City, Missouri, in connection with casino skimming operations and another federal case in Las Vegas, relating to the 1979 murder of a police informant. Before the end of April, a federal grand jury in Chicago indicted Michael Spilotro, owner of Hoagies restaurant in Chicago, for extortion.

Anthony Spilotro

'Family Secrets'

Outfit bosses were brought to trial for the Spilotro killings and many other offenses in the "Family Secrets" case of 2007, which resulted in plea deals and guilty verdicts. Turncoat Nicholas Calabrese testified for five days. While Calabrese listed the mobsters present at the time of the Spilotros' murders, he could not say who specifically was responsible for the fatal beatings given to the brothers. He testified that he, with help from Louie Eboli, was holding down Michael Spilotro and had his back toward Anthony Spilotro.

Though the Calabrese account of the killings included John "No Nose" DiFronzo, DiFronzo was not charged in the case.

Five of the original fourteen Family Secrets defendants remained at the close of the trial. The others had been removed through plea deals. After the ten-week trial, jurors deliberated for four days before finding the defendants - Frank "the Breeze" Calabrese, Sr. (brother of government witness Nicholas Calabrese), Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello, Paul "the Indian" Schiro and Anthony "Twan" Doyle - guilty on all counts on September 10, 2007.

The jury separately considered the issue of whether Marcello, Frank Calabrese, Lombardo and Schiro used murder to advance the interests of their criminal conspiracy. Eighteen murders and one attempted murder had been charged against the defendants. On September 27, the jury reported that Marcello, Calabrese and Lombardo were guilty of racketeering murders. (The panel deadlocked on the charge against Schiro.) Marcello specifically was convicted of participating in the killings of the Spilotro brothers, as well as in the 1981 beating death of Nicholas D'Andrea.

Government witness Nicholas Calabrese was sentenced March 26, 2009, to serve a term of twelve years and four months in prison. He admitted involvement in a number of mob murders, including the killing of the Spilotro brothers.


Sources:

  • "14 defendants indicted for alleged organized crime activities...," press release of the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, U.S. Department of Justice, April 25, 2005.
  • Anthony Spilotro Certificate of Death, Indiana State Board of Health, signed by coroner on July 25, 1985.
  • Cawley, Janet, "Spilotro a 'nice boy' who grew up tough," Chicago Tribune, March 13, 1983, p. B1.
  • Chicago Tribune, "Did reputed mob brothers run or were they killed?" Elyria OH Chronicle-Telegram, June 19, 1986, p. B2.
  • Dwyer, Bill, "Details of Spilotro murders revealed in mob trial," Oak Park Journal, oakpark.com, Aug. 14, 2007, updated Feb. 11, 2021.
  • Goudie, Chuck, "The last family secret: 30 years after the Spilotro hit," ABC-7 Chicago, abc7chicago.com, June 24, 2016.
  • Hidlay, William C., "Mourners weep at funeral for Spilotro brothers," Associated Press (AP), apnews.com, June 27, 1986.
  • Houston, Jack, "Secrets led to Spilotro rites denial," Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1986.
  • Hunt, Thomas, "Family Secrets" coverage, Mob-News, mob-news.blogspot.com, 2007-2009.
  • Hunt, Thomas, "Outfit boss DiFronzo fought the law, and the law lost," The American Mafia, mafiahistory.us, 2018-2021.
  • Koziol, Ronald, and Edward Baumann, "Spilotros found beaten to death," Chicago Tribune, June 25, 1986.
  • Koziol, Ronald, and John O'Brien," "Spilotros may have had drinks with killers," Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1986.
  • Manning, Mary, "Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal dies at age 79," Las Vegas Sun, lasvegassun.com, Oct. 14, 2008.
  • Michael Spilotro Certificate of Death, Indiana State Board of Health, signed by coroner on July 25, 1985.
  • Schumacker, Geoff, "Tony Spilotro's last act," Nevada Public Radio Desert Companion, May 23, 2016.
  • Valin, Edmond, "'Lefty' Rosenthal was high-level FBI source into activities of Chicago Outfit," The American Mafia, mafiahistory.us, 2018.

 

06 June 2021

1962: Cancer claims mob boss Profaci

On this date in 1962...

Brooklyn-based crime boss Joseph Profaci died at ten minutes to eleven o'clock in the evening of Wednesday, June 6, 1962. The cause of death for the sixty-four-year-old leader of the Profaci Crime Family (later known as the Colombo Crime Family) was cancer.



Profaci was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital in East Islip, Suffolk County, New York, on March 27, intending to have cancer surgically removed. Doctors found the cancer inoperable. He was released from Good Samaritan on April 5 and became a guest at the secure fifteen-room East Islip estate of his brother-in-law and second-in-command Giuseppe Magliocco. He remained there for two months.

Profaci's own home at 8863 Fifteenth Avenue in Brooklyn was largely avoided in that time. It was considered vulnerable to attack by the Gallo brothers faction, then in open revolt against the Profaci administration. Friction between Profaci and the Gallos dated back to the late 1950s, when the Gallos felt they had been inadequately rewarded for performing murders at the boss's orders. The Gallos forced early-1961 concessions by kidnapping several top Profaci leaders. But Profaci went back on the coerced promises and attempted to have the Gallo leaders murdered, making use of young mobsters who had betrayed the Gallo cause. Blood was spilled on both sides beginning in August 1961.

On Tuesday, June 5, 1962, Profaci was taken to Southside (subsequently renamed South Shore) Hospital in Bay Shore, Suffolk County, New York. Though he passed away the following night, Southside Hospital made no announcement until Thursday.

Newspaper reports published on June 8 described Profaci as a vicious and treacherous mob boss who, more or less successfully, portrayed himself as a businessman, a faithful churchgoer and a family man.

A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated by Monsignor Francis P. Barilla for Profaci on the morning of Monday, June 11, at St. Bernadette's Roman Catholic Church, 8201 Thirteenth Avenue between Eighty-second and Eighty-third Streets. Profaci's remains were held within a bronze coffin placed at the altar rail between rows of floral tributes.

More than a dozen police detectives and FBI agents scanned the two-hundred attendees for known crime figures. They reportedly found none.

Following a service of forty-five minutes, in which there was no eulogy, the remains were interred at St. John Cemetery, Middle Village, Queens, New York.


Sources:

  • "Profaci, reputed Mafia leader, dies of cancer," Scranton PA Times, June 8, 1962, p. 1.
  • "Profaci dies of cancer; led feuding Brooklyn mob," New York Times, June 8, 1962.
  • "S'long, Joe, the cops wonder wacha know," New York Daily News, June 12, 1962, p. 2.
  • Director FBI, "Criminal Intelligence Digest," Letter to FBI SAC New York, Nov. 8, 1961, NARA #124-10220-10084, p. 6.
  • Doty, Robert C., "16 in Gallo Gang seized to halt war on Profacis," New York Times, Dec. 11, 1963, p. 1.
  • Federici, William, and Neal Patterson, "Profaci rubbed out by cancer," New York Daily News, June 8, 1962, p. 5.
  • House Select Committee on Assassinations, U.S. House of Representatives, 95th Congress, 2d Session, Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Appendix to Hearings, Report Volume IX, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979.


25 May 2021

Journalist, crime writer Schmetterer, 77

Jerry Schmetterer, author of The Coffey Files, Crooked Brooklyn, Behind the Murder Curtain and other true crime books, passed away at his Manhattan home Monday, May 24, 2021, after a battle with cancer. His wife of forty-five years Emily and their son David were at his side. He was seventy-seven.

Schmetterer was an award-winning print and broadcast journalist and past-president of the New York Press Club (1984). He worked for twenty-three years with the New York Daily News, serving in reporter, bureau chief, assistant city editor and metropolitan editor roles. He also served as managing editor for the CNN news network and for WPIX-TV in New York. He was spokesman for the Kings County, New York, District Attorney's Office for twelve years.

In his days with the Daily News,, Schmetterer covered crime boss Joseph Colombo's protests against federal law enforcement, the Son of Sam case, the New York Guardian Angels group, the murder of John Lennon and many other important news items.

Daily News, March 23, 1971.

Daily News, May 1982

The New York Press Club tweeted on Tuesday morning, May 25: "The @NYPressClub mourns the passing of longtime member, past president and current trustee Jerry Schmetterer. Jerry was a journalist, author and former spokesman for the #Brooklyn DA's office. He was a good man who knew how to tell a good story. Our condolences to Jerry's family." 

A New York Daily News obituary by Larry McShane was published early Tuesday afternoon. The Daily News stated that Bronx-born Schmetterer reported on the French Connection case and the 1993 terror attack on the World Trade Center and other matters.

Ex-journalist and public relations counselor Edward Hershey posted on Schmetterer's Facebook profile late Monday night: "Deepest condolences to Jerry Schmetterer's family and friends. He was one of the very good guys."

Schmetterer and Jay Bildstein coauthored The King of Clubs: The Story of Scores, the Famed Topless Club and the Lurid Life Behind the Glitter, released in 1996 (Barricade Books). The book explored the challenges of Bildstein's climb to success in the sex industry despite government restrictions and the hazards of the AIDS era.

'He was a good man
who knew how to tell a good story.
'

The Coffey Files: One Cop's War Against the Mob, coauthored by Schmetterer and Joseph Coffey (1938-2015), former head of the NYPD organized-crime squad, was released in 1992 (St. Martin Press). The book recounted the highlights of Coffey's exciting career, which included arresting John Gotti, interviewing Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz and assisting on the Commission Case.

The 2009 release (iUniverse), E-Man: Life in the NYPD Emergency Service Unit, coauthored by Schmetterer and retired detective Al Sheppard, recalled events in Sheppard's career on the special unit called in when police officers were in need of help.

For Crooked Brooklyn: Taking Down Corrupt Judges, Dirty Politicians, Killers and Body Snatchers, released in 2015 (Thomas Dunne Books), Schmetterer worked with Michael Vecchione, former chief of the Brooklyn DA's Rackets Division, to present Vecchione's career battling organized crime and corruption.

In 2018 (Post Hill Press), Schmetterer teamed once again with Vecchione, and Special Agent Bruce Sackman, to author Behind the Murder Curtain, which revealed Sackman's efforts to expose and put behind bars "medical serial killers" - trusted doctors and nurses who murdered their patients.

27 February 2021

Jury complete, 1891 Mafia trial begins

On this date in 1891...

A lengthy jury selection process concluded Friday, February 27, 1891, and the trial of nine men accused of the assassination of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy began with the reading of the indictment by Court Clerk Richard Screven.
 


Screven read: 

The grand jurors of the State of Louisiana, duly impaneled and sworn in and for the body of the Parish of Orleans, in the name and by the authority of the said state, upon their oath, present:
That one Peter Natali, one Antonio Scaffidi, one Antonio Bagnetto, one Manuel Politz, one Antonio Marchesi, one Pietro Monastero, one Bastian Incardona, one Salvador Sinceri, one Loretto Comitz, one Charles Traina and one Charles Poitza, late of the Parish of Orleans, on the 16th day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety, with force of arms,... feloniously did shoot and murder one David D. Hennessy with a dangerous weapon, to-wit, a gun, with felonious intent willfully, feloniously and of their malice aforethought, to kill and murder him...
And the grand jurors aforesaid, upon their oath foresaid, do further present that one Asperi Marchesi, one Joseph P. Macheca, one James Caruso, one Charles Matranga, one Rocco Geraci, one Charles Patorno, one Frank Romero and one John Caruso, before the said felony was committed in form aforesaid... did feloniously and maliciously incite, move, procure, aid, counsel, hire and command the said Peter Natali, the said Antonio Scaffedi, the said Antonio Bagnetto, the said Manuel Politz, the said Antonio Marchesi, the said Pietro Monastero, the said Bastian Incardona, the said Salvador Sinceri, and the said Loretto Comitz, one Charles Traina, and one Charles Poitza, the said felony in manner and form aforesaid...

Though the indictment contained charges against nineteen men, just nine of those were going on trial. District Attorney Charles H. Luzenberg handled the prosecution. The lead defense counsel was Lionel Adams.

Court adjourned at just after five o'clock in the afternoon. The start of testimony was scheduled for 10:30 the next morning, Saturday, February 28.


Through a period of twelve days, the court had summoned 1,221 prospective jurors. Of that number, 780 had been examined before the twelfth man of the panel could be placed.

A total of 557 men were prevented from jury service in the case for causes such as objecting to capital punishment, objecting to conviction based on circumstantial evidence, holding a fixed opinion in the case and exhibiting extreme prejudice against Sicilian-Americans. Physical disability excused ninety-five of those examined. The defense used 100 of its 108 peremptory challenges (twelve per defendant) against prospective jurors, while the prosecution used twenty-eight of its fifty-four peremptory challenges (half the total allowed to the defense).

The completed jury consisted of Jacob M. Seligman, jeweler, of 636 Carondelet Street; Solomon J. Mayer, real estate dealer, of 500 Franklin Street; John Berry Jr., flour company solicitor, of 137 Gravier Street; Walter D. Livaudais, Southern Pacific Railroad clerk, 209 1/2 Magazine Street; Henry L. Tronchet, cotton company clerk, of 411 Dauphine Street; William H. Leahy, machinist, of 439 Constance Street; Arnold F. Wille, grocer, of Lafayette and Franklin Streets; Edward J. Donegan, molder, of 299 1/2 St. Thomas Street; William Mackesy, bookkeeper, of 235 1/2 Julia Street; Charles Heyob, jewelry repairer, of 242 Royal Street; William Yochum, grocer, of Fourth and Dryades Streets; Charles Boesen, shoe company clerk, of 402 Customhouse Street.


The trial continued until Friday, March 13, when the jury returned with its verdicts. It found Bagnetto, Incardona, Macheca, the Marchesis and Matranga not guilty and could not reach a verdict on Politz, Scaffedi and Monastero. Suggestions that the jury had been bribed by agents employed by the defense were already being discussed in the community. The failure to convict anyone for the killing of the local police chief further incited the community.

Though not convicted, the nine case defendants could not be released until a related charge was dismissed. They were held overnight at Orleans Parish Prison, along with their untried indicted co-conspirators. Release of the acquitted defendants was expected to occur the next morning.

Overnight, however, political leaders hastily arranged a community mass meeting. On the morning of March 14, they stirred up a large crowd and swarmed the prison. A squad of gunmen penetrated the prison and murdered eleven of the prisoners held there, including six of the trial defendants.

See also:

Sources:

  • "A jury at last," editorial, New Orleans Daily Picayune, Feb. 28, 1891, p. 4.
  • "The jury complete," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Feb. 28, 1891, p. 1.
  • "The Hennessy Trial," New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 4, 1891, p. 1.
  • "None guilty!," New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 14, 1891, p. 1.
  • "The mass meeting," editorial, New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 14, 1891, p. 4.
  • "What next?" editorial, New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 14, 1891, p. 4.
  • "Juror Seligman and the state's attorney," editorial, New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 15, 1891, p. 4.
  • "Avenged," New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 15, 1891, p. 2.
  • "The dead buried," New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 16, 1891, p. 2.
  • State of Louisiana versus Peter Natali, et al, indictments, no. 14220, Nov. 20, 1890; no. 14221, Nov. 20, 1890; no. 14231, Nov. 22, 1890.

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