Showing posts with label Bootlegging. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bootlegging. Show all posts

19 May 2019

The Pittsburgh machine gun murder that wasn't

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

On this date in 1927...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pittsburgh Post


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

31 August 2018

Gangster 'Legs' Diamond shows up in Europe

On this date in 1930...

Legs Diamond
Authorities had speculated for days about the location of notorious New York gangster Jack "Legs" Diamond, when Legs appeared aboard the Red Star Line steamer Belgenland in the English port of Plymouth on Sunday, August 31, 1930. Alerted by New York police to reports that Diamond was sailing for Europe, British and Irish Free State officials pledged to refuse him admittance to their countries. As Diamond made no attempt to disembark from the Belgenland at Plymouth, law enforcement merely noted his presence on the ship.

An international search for Diamond was first noted in newspapers on Tuesday, August 26. At the time, police were investigating the disappearance and likely murder of Harry Western (also spelled Weston), operator of a roadhouse near Kingston in upstate New York, and the discovery of a Diamond-linked arsenal in Brooklyn. (Some newspapers engaged in wild speculation about the bullets, bombs and bulletproof vests found in Brooklyn, insisting that an interstate underworld conflict was about to erupt between a New York gangland army and forces loyal to Chicago underworld boss Alphonse Capone.)

In the afternoon of the twenty-sixth, New York State Police from Saugerties and Troy raided Diamond's summer home in the hamlet of Acra, about thirty-five miles southwest of Albany. They found only Mrs. Alice Diamond, her friend and the friend's young daughter, a maid and nineteen-year-old errand boy William Warring. Warring told police that Diamond boarded a transatlantic liner in New York several days earlier.

Wrong ship

Lucania
Warring's story was initially considered a red herring, but police checked into it. They found that Diamond had purchased a ticket to travel to Europe aboard the White Star Line's Baltic, scheduled to stop at Cobh, Ireland, on August 31, and then at Liverpool, England, on September 1. The police contacted authorities in Ireland and England and managed to send an image of Diamond using radio and transatlantic telephone.

White Star Line contacted the captain of the Baltic, and he reported that no one matching Diamond's description was aboard the vessel. Police had some lingering doubts.

On August 30, the New York Times reported that Jack "Legs" Diamond was aboard the Baltic and accompanied on the liner by four of his henchmen: Salvatore "Charlie Lucky" Lucania later known as Charlie Luciano, Charles "Charlie Green" Entratta, Salvatore Arcidiaco and a man named Treager. The report caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the pre-FBI Bureau of Investigation.

Years later, the FBI made note of the trip in a memorandum:
A confidential circular from the Bureau of Narcotics in the files of the Identification Division reflects that Luciana was an associate of the late Jack Diamond and accompanied him, Diamond, and [name deleted] to Europe in the summer of 1930, when it was believed that a conspiracy existed to smuggle narcotics from Europe into the United States...

Entratta
When the Times report hit the streets, the police had already become convinced that Diamond was not on the Baltic. Concerned that his travel plans were known by too many people, Diamond made a last minute switch and boarded the Belgenland, they reasoned. Belgenland left on the same day and from the same location - New York's North River Pier 60 - as the Baltic. It was due to land at Plymouth before proceeding on to Cherbourg, France, and Antwerp, Belgium.

While British authorities noted the arrival of Belgenland on the thirty-first and the presence of Diamond, reportedly traveling under the name of Jack Nolan, there was no mention in press accounts of the Diamond companions named in the New York Times. Lucania, Entratta, Arcidiaco and Treager possibly were unnoticed. They may have sailed as originally planned on the Baltic or they may not have made the trip at all (despite the later claims of FBN and FBI).

New York Sun, Aug. 30, 1930

In Europe

Diamond remained aboard Belgenland until she docked at Antwerp on September 1. As he disembarked, Brussels officials ordered him detained.

Diamond expressed astonishment when interviewed by the press:
I do not understand what is going on. I embarked from New York under my own name and not for one moment have I concealed my identity. I wonder who imagined I was traveling under the assumed name of Knowland or Nolan. I left the states to take a rest on the continent where I was years ago. I even have a French identity card dating from my first visit three years ago. It is not my intention to remain in Belgium more than a day or so. I am suffering from my stomach and I want to go to Vichy immediately to cure myself.

Diamond
While Vichy was mentioned to the press, Diamond also expressed an interest in visiting Magdeburg, Germany, and in conferring with German medical specialists about his stomach problems. United States officials believed that his trip was related either to securing a source of high quality liquor for New York bootlegging operations or to establish narcotics supply connections with European pharmaceutical companies.

Officials at Antwerp found his travel papers in order and released him. They quickly changed their minds about Diamond and took him again into custody and insisted that he leave Belgium. Because he was found to possess a valid visa for Germany, he was allowed to exit the country at the German border.

German police arrested him as he entered that country. The United States embassy suggested to German authorities that Diamond was a wanted criminal in New York. That was not entirely true. While New York police had been looking for the gang leader, they publicly stated that there were no current charges against Diamond.

Germany decided that Diamond was an undesirable alien and ordered him out of the country. On September 6, he was driven by detectives to the port of Hamburg and placed aboard the freighter Hannover bound for the U.S.

'Clay pigeon'

Three weeks after his return to the U.S., Diamond was seriously wounded by gunmen who broke into his room at Manhattan's Hotel Monticello. Doctors saw little chance that he would survive. But Diamond managed to recover from his wounds and walked out of the hospital before the end of the year.

Near the end of April 1931, he was shot several times outside a roadhouse near Acra. Again he recovered.

As Diamond was charged with bootlegging offenses that summer, the often-targeted gang leader was referred to in the press as "the clay pigeon of the underworld." The bootlegging case resulted in a conviction and a prison sentence, but Diamond remained free pending legal appeal.

Several bullets to the skull, fired as Diamond was asleep in a cheap Albany roominghouse, ended the gangster's life on December 18, 1931.


Sources:

  • "'Legs' Diamond to be barred from Ireland," Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 29, 1930, p. 14.
  • "Asserts Diamond is on the ocean," New York Sun, Aug. 27, 1930, p. 2.
  • "Britons think 'Legs' Diamond is in London," Syracuse NY American, Aug. 31, 1930, p. 2.
  • "Charles Luciana, with aliases," FBI memorandum, file no. 39-2141-X, Aug. 28, 1935, accessed March 2017.
  • "Diamond held upon arrival at Antwerp," Malone NY Evening Telegram, Sept. 1, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Diamond home Catskill raid gives no clue," Albany Evening Journal, Aug. 27, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Diamond in Antwerp detained for checkup," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 1, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Germany arrests 'Legs' diamond, American gunman," Saratoga Springs NY Saratogian, Sept. 2, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Ireland will refuse landing to Diamond," New York Times, Aug. 30, 1930.
  • "Irish Free State bans Legs Diamond, New York gangster," Niagara Falls NY Gazette, Aug. 30, 1930, p. 18.
  • "Jack Diamond shot 5 times by gunmen in a 64th St. hotel," New York Times, Oct. 13, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Legs Diamond hiding out, New York police believe," Buffalo Courier-Express, Aug. 27, 1930, p. 5.
  • "Legs Diamond is now believed to be passenger on Belgenland," New York Sun, Aug. 30, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Sails from Hamburg," Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 7, 1930, p. 8.
  • "The four-year sentence...," Boston Globe, Aug. 14, 1931, p. 18.
  • Berger, Meyer, "'Legs' Diamond slain in sleep at Albany by two assassins," New York Times, Dec. 19, 1931, p. 1.
  • Reynolds, Ruth, "And Legs came sailing home," Catskill NY Recorder, Sept. 19, 1930, reprinted from New York Sunday News, Sept. 11, 1930.
More about "Legs" Diamond:


Legs Diamond: Gangster by Patrick Downey.