'The Big Gorilla' may have been
killed with his own shotgun
killed with his own shotgun
On this date in 1927...
Coverage of the killing of Luigi Lamendola involved a great many journalistic disagreements. Newspapers could not agree even on the age of the victim. He was reported to be twenty-seven years old, thirty-two and thirty-five. (He was probably close to twenty-seven.) And the uncertainty did not end there. He was said to be a member of a Black Hand extortion organization or a victim of a Black Hand extortion organization or possibly neither. He suffered either three or six bullet wounds in the head. And he was killed in a hail of machine gun fire or through a double-barreled blast of a shotgun. Or possibly two shotguns.
There was general agreement that Lamendola - known to his friends as "The Big G" - was a bad guy. He was a brutal Prohibition Era gang leader, who held a monopoly on moonshine liquor distribution in Pittsburgh's Hill District and used threats of violence and a fair amount of actual violence to maintain that monopoly.
Some have claimed that he learned his craft from the Capone Outfit in Chicago before striking out on his own. (It is difficult to support this claim. However, Lamendola may have had connections with the underworld in the Hamilton, Ontario, area.) He may have served as a lieutenant of sorts for the Pittsburgh Mafia organization (led in the period by Stefano Monastero) until ambition caused him to strive for greater status.
Lamendola knew well that he had enemies. It was said that he did not often stray from the Hill District restaurant, 27 Chatham Street, that served as his headquarters. The building was also his home, as it contained a well furnished bachelor apartment upstairs. When he did go out, he carried a sword-cane with him. With the touch of a button, the outer cane covering fell away to reveal a fifteen-inch blade.
Late Thursday evening, May 19, after he locked up the restaurant and relaxed in the establishment with a couple of business partners, some enemies came calling. A large touring car with curtained windows pulled up in front. Two men got out and tapped on the restaurant's front window and called for Lamendola to come outside.
The Big Gorilla made it to the doorway. The two who tapped on the window ducked behind the car, and two others pointed weapons - most likely shotguns - at Lamendola through the car window curtains. The weapons fire, according to the Pittsburgh Press, "shattered" Lamendola's head. The damage done left the impression that a machine gun was used.
Lamendola partner Peter Curatolo, nearby at the time of the shooting, was superficially wounded by some of the shrapnel.
The automobile then proceeded north on Chatham Street, while the gunmen inside of it continued to fire. At least one bit of the fired lead cracked through the window of Charles Sparano's New Italian cafe at the corner with Webster Street - still busy at that late hour - and passed within inches of the head of a violinist in the cafe orchestra. The vehicle turned onto Bigelow Boulevard and sped away to the northeast.
Lamendola was rushed to Mercy Hospital. He was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. Authorities noted that he was wearing diamonds valued at about $12,000 and had four $1,000 bills in his wallet. His death certificate attributed the end of Lamendola's life to "shock and hemorrhage following gunshot wound of head. Prob. murder."
During their investigation of the killing, police searched the Lamendola restaurant and discovered several hundred gallons of moonshine whiskey. In the upstairs apartment, they found automatic pistols, knives and ammunition, including shotgun shells that matched those that took his life. They found no shotgun. At least not right away.
When detectives traced the escape route taken by the gunmen, they found a shotgun discarded on Bigelow Boulevard, near Washington Street. They assumed the gunmen tossed it out of the car as they drove away.
Days later, rumors circulated that Lamendola had been betrayed by someone in his own organization and had been killed with his own shotgun.
Adding further insult to fatal injury, press coverage subsequently suggested that Lamendola was working in the U.S. as an agent of the Fascist government of Italy. That charge seems to have resulted merely from the fact that Lamendola's remains were returned to his native city of Caltanissetta, Sicily, for burial.
Authorities held Lamendola's business partners for a while and questioned known members of the Pittsburgh underworld. But Lamendola's murder was never solved.
- "'Ghost' of murdered bootleg czar stalks through 'Hill' with death in either hand," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 23, 1927, p. 3.
- "Death spurts from auto in Chatham St.; misses girl," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 20, 1927, p. 1.
- "Hill District man victim of machine gun slayers," Pittsburgh Post, May 20, 1927, p. 1.
- "Hunt slayers of Lamendola," Pittsburgh Press, May 20, 1927, p. 23.
- "Italian murdered by gang here believed Fascist agent," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, July 16, 1927, p. 3.
- "Lamendola, slain here, is buried in Italy," Pittsburgh Press, July 16, 1927, p. 1.
- "Machine gun killers sought in Pittsburgh," New Castle PA News, May 20, 1927, p. 26.
- "Machine gun theory falls when weapon that killed Hill District man is found," Pittsburgh Post, May 21, 1927, p. 5.
- "Man ambushed and killed," Pottsville PA Evening Herald, May 20, 1927, p. 9.
- "Murder cafe owners held," Pittsburgh Gazette Times, May 22, 1927, p. D-12.
- "Nab gangster as murderer of Monastero," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 9, 1929, p. 1.
- "Pittsburgh police probe slaying of restaurant owner," New Castle PA News, May 20, 1927, p. 31.
- "Two more padlocks are clamped on," Pittsburgh Post, April 9, 1926, p. 3.
- Gazarik, Richard, Prohibition Pittsburgh, The History Press, 2017.
- Luigi Lamendola Certificate of Death, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, file no. 45184, registered no. 4142, May 19, 1927.
- Passenger manifest of S.S. Conte Rosso, departed Naples, Italy, on Nov. 20, 1926, arrived New York, NY, on Nov. 30, 1926.