Showing posts with label Chicago. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chicago. Show all posts

19 March 2017

74 years ago: Chicago boss suicide

On this date in 1943, Chicago Outfit leader Frank Nitti responded to news of a federal indictment by sending his wife to pray a novena, getting himself drunk and then firing a bullet into his brain. 


Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1943.
The indictment was not entirely a surprise. Chicago mob bosses were well aware that their plot to extort millions from the motion picture industry and theater projectionists had been exposed. Willie Bioff - hand-picked by Nitti to oversee the racket - and Bioff's more visible partners had already been convicted in federal court. And it was clear that federal investigators were not done. News from New York suggested that some mob big-shots in Chicago were likely to be indicted. It seemed certain that Bioff was aiding the investigators, but the extent of the damage was not known until March 19, 1943.

Chicago Daily Tribune
Oct. 25, 1941
That's when authorities in New York announced that indictments for racketeering conspiracy and mail fraud had been returned against Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti (real name Nitto), Paul "the Waiter" Ricca (DeLucia), Louis "Little New York" Campagna, Philip D'Andrea, Charles "Cherry Nose" Gioe, Ralph Pierce and Francis "Frank Diamond" Maritote. Bioff's betrayal had been complete.

Nitti had bet his reputation - and, likely, his life - on Bioff's reliability. When the extortion plot first came to light with complaints that mobsters controlled the International Alliance of Theatre and Stage Employees (IATSE), Outfit leaders contemplated severing their most dangerous connection to IATSE by murdering Bioff. Bioff reportedly survived only because Nitti opposed the idea.

On the morning of March 19, attorney A. Bradley Eben (a former assistant U.S. attorney) called the Nitti home at 712 Selborne Road in Riverside, Illinois, and provided his client with news of the indictments. Nitti made arrangements to meet with Eben at his law office that afternoon, but the mob boss actually had other plans.

Nitti told his wife of nine months, Antoinette (known as "Toni") Caravetta Nitto, to begin a prayer novena at Our Lady of Sorrows Church on Chicago's west side. (The Sorrowful Mother Novena was an enormously popular service at the church from the late 1930s into the 1950s.) She left the house at 1:15 that afternoon.

Nitti was next seen by railroad employees at about three o'clock, as he staggered along the Illinois Central tracks near Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road, less than a mile from his Selborne Road home. As the railroad men called out to him, the intoxicated Nitti leaned back against a chain-link fence, drew a handgun and fired it twice, sending bullets through his hat. Positioning the weapon more carefully, he then fired a third shot. The slug entered the right side of his head near his ear and traveled upward, lodging in the top of his skull.

Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1943.
When police arrived, they found Nitti's driver's license and Selective Service draft card - both made out in the name Frank Nitto - in his pockets. The documents gave his birthdate as Jan. 27, 1886. The draft card contained his Selborne Road address. The license, however, showed an address of 1208 Lexington Street in Chicago, which belonged to Lucia Ronga, mother of his first wife, the late Anna Theresa Ronga Nitto.

Toni Nitto returned home about a half hour later. "The first I knew of what had happened was when [the police] came and told me he was dead," she later told the press. "I knew something was wrong. There were always strange men watching our house. He knew something was up, too. Frank wasn't well - it was his stomach, nerves I think. They were always after him. They wouldn't let him alone. They made him do this."

Toni's brother Charles appeared at the coroner's inquest to testify that Nitti had been dealing with a number of issues: "He was suffering with a heart ailment and he had stomach trouble. I think he was temporarily insane." Some sources indicated that Nitti was also suffering with physical pain from a serious gunshot wound suffered back in 1932 and with lingering emotional pain from the death of his first wife in November of 1940.

A federal informant provided a more direct explanation for Nitti's suicide: "It was that or be killed. [The Outfit] held Nitti responsible for the problem. Bioff has been his man and it was Nitti who had persuaded the group to withdraw the original 'hit' order on Bioff. It was felt that if they had killed Bioff earlier in the investigation, his death would have silenced most prospective witnesses."

Nitti's estate was valued at greater than $74,000. That was divided between the widow Toni and Joseph, Nitti's son by his first marriage.

What happened to Willie Bioff? Click here.

Sources:
  • World War II draft registration card, serial no. U2138.
  • Yost, Newton E., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-683, NARA no. 124-10208-10406, July 22, 1964, p. 18.

  • Fulton, William, "5 aliases bob up to haunt Bioff at extort trial," Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 30, 1941, p. 2.
  • "List gangsters who prey on Chicago unions," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 18, 1943, p. 1.
  • Wiegman, Carl, "Nitti kills himself!," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1943, p. 1.
  • "Gang leader Nitti kills himself in Chicago after indictment here," New York Times, March 20, 1943, p. 30.
  • "Nitti long held business chief of underworld," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1943, p. 6.
  • Geserick, June, "Nitti sent wife to church at hour of suicide," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 20, 1943, p. 6.
  • "FBI hunts new clews bearing on Nitti suicide," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 21, 1943, p. 3.
  • "Nitti's widow once was secretary for slain Edw. J. O'Hare," Dixon IL Evening Telegraph, March 22, 1943, p. 7.
  • Wiegman, Carl, "Schenck bares Bioff threats; cash paid here," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 26, 1943, p. 2.
  • "Swears Nitti was treasurer of movie union," Chicago Daily Tribune, July 3, 1943, p. 6.
  • "Bioff reveals tributes paid by movie firms," Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 8, 1943, p. 15.
  • "Frank Nitti leaves $75,000 estate," Bloomington IL Pantagraph, Oct. 12, 1943, p. 1.

22 February 2017

Nicola Gentile - Meet the Mafia's Most Elusive Yet Revealing Historical Figure


Nicola Gentile
Nicola Gentile
aka Nick Gentile, Zu Cola
Code Name: Joe Mollica

Birth: 12 June 1885
Death: see endnotes









Significance:
  • Mafia mediator
  • International drug trafficker
  • Escaped mob-issued death sentence... twice!
  • Published memoirs which exposed the inner working of the Mafia, and, provided perhaps the most important and intriguing first-hand account of the American mob's evolution - particularly the who, what, when, and how of the so-called Castellammarese War.
The Parrot Murder Case

Mary Siragusa had an unusually bad feeling as she prepared for church. "Maybe I shouldn't go," she told husband Joe.  "Nothing will happen to me, you go ahead," Joe insisted. Reluctantly, and with a foul premonition lingering, Mary headed to St. Philomena's on nearby Forward Avenue.  There she prayed the entire time that husband Joe and their seven year old daughter Catherine were in no danger.

Just before noon, Joe ventured to the basement apartment and prepared for a shave. Up several floors, Catherine still in slumber.  As Joe put the finishing swath of cream on his cheeks, something or someone was approaching. He turned face to face with several armed men. Joe knew what was going down and tried desperately to escape up the staircase. He made it up three steps before copper jacket .38 slugs pummeled his torso. Grasping the railing, Joe turned his head ever so slightly to capture one more look at his assassins. His lathered face shattered by a .32 round.  Catherine, unharmed, never heard a sound. Mary... she knew what she'd find upon returning.

"Poor Joe, Poor Joe!" shrieked one of Giuseppe Siragusa's pet birds. Nonstop the parrot repeated the phrase while Pittsburgh detectives sifted through the bloody scene at 2523 Beechwood Boulevard on the morning of September 13, 1931.  A dozen rounds had been fired.  Five hit the target.  Four .38 in Siragusa's body; one .32 in the face.  Dangling on the wall above his lifeless body, rosary beads and broken picture frames.

You Don't Know Nick!

Now, you might ask, what the hell does that story have to do with Nicola Gentile?!  We'll be getting to that soon.  First, who is Nick?!

Much of Gentile's history has been elusive, to say the least.  One of the factors behind the many question marks was Gentile's own ability to remain transient.  Use of aliases, residing for short stints in various cities, and remaining fairly under the law's radar helped Gentile become more like a phantom of mob history, especially in terms of the public recognition.  The government however, or a few entities within it, were aware of Gentile, though perhaps not the extent of his business and alliances within the network of national organized crime.   That would all change by 1937, when the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (predecessor to the DEA) netted the mob's 'elder statesman' in a large scale drug bust. Of the eighty-eight (this figure varies from source to source) individuals law enforcement figured involved in the widespread drug ring - Gentile turned out to be the missing link, or so they thought.  That was just the start of a bizarre, stealthy and historically-hazy relationship between the Gentile, the governments of two nations, and more than few famous underworld associates from the good old days.
1937 Drug bust in New Orleans. L to R: Nicola Gentile, Jerry Feraci, Thomas Siracusa, Onofia Pecararo


Background Info:

Since Gentile's name doesn't generally ring of familiarity in pop culture, and obviously his story has proved a bit mysterious even for hardcore mob history aficionados, here's the brief lowdown (For further reading, there exist some succinct bio's, backstory and timeline's reflecting what was taking place in the underworld and Gentile's rise and role within significant moments.):


1907 'Zu Cola' in Montreal Notary Records
Gentile, born in Siculiana Sicily, quickly immersed himself and gained influence within Mafia factions upon arrival in the United States (approximately 1903). His official initiation into the Mafia occurred in 1905 (Philadelphia), and from then on maintained strong underworld ties both in the States and in Italy (he traveled back and forth periodically between the countries).  Gentile resided and worked in numerous cities, including Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Montreal, as far as San Francisco, and served in positions that included advisor, negotiator and/or Capo.


Gentile arrest Pittsburgh PA
1921 Ship Manifest
"You have to be strong, courageous, cruel to live in that country." - Nicola Gentile, discussing life in the United States, September 19, 1963.
By 1931, Gentile counted among his friends many of the soon-to-be mob all-stars.  This crop of enterprising criminals - which included a who's-who of gangland infamy, Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, Tommy Lucchese, Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, etc., among their ranks - were launching a two-phase coup de tat on warring bosses - Giuseppe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, aka the Castellammarese War.  Also that same year, Gentile, who was married with six children, made an attempt to become a naturalized citizen. That effort didn't go quite as planned, which we'll get to shortly. Back to the 'purge' of battling bosses...
1931 Nicola Gentile Declaration of Intention

The murder of Giuseppe 'Joe the Boss' Masseria in April 1931 ended the so-called 'war' and opened the door to underworld supremacy for Salvatore Maranzano.  It is believed that shortly before or during Maranzano's coronation that Pittsburgh boss, Giuseppe "Yeast Baron" Siragusa,  attempted to have Gentile put in very bad graces - the kind that get a mobster killed. However, Nicola Gentile, the proven master negotiator, successfully applied such skills in his own defense to claims made by the Pittsburgh boss. It worked.  In fact, it impressed the hell out of Al Capone, and that in turn saved Gentile's life.  Siragusa's move against Gentile was not to be forgotten.  Being loyal to Maranzano as he reportedly was, Siragusa already earned himself a death sentence, he just didn't know it yet.  Luciano, Vito Genovese, and most of the men who eventually 'sided' with Maranzano... they had quickly realized the new boss wasn't going to last.  Sending a team of Jewish assassins into Maranzano's Manhattan office on September 10th, 1931 sealed the fate of, what some believe, a whole slew of loyalists.  It became known in almost mythical terms as the "Purge" and the more dramatic sounding "Night of the Sicilian Vespers." 

Origins of the Vespers and other revelations

Up until the early 1950's (and that's even pushing it; 1963 was truly the turning point) what the American public knew about the 'Mafia'** and for that matter, organized crime in general, was almost entirely provided by the press and/or whispers, hearsay, a few books (written by former journalists usually). To that point, plenty of law enforcement and government agencies had little clue beyond that as well.  Although there were indeed government agents and entities very familiar with underworld subculture, it took several sensational whistle-blowers, over the course of basically three decades, to truly expose the complex history and reach of the 'Mob.'  There were three primary individuals who 'blew the lid off' mob secrecy: Gentile, Valachi, Bonanno (the latter's memoirs were discovered during a 1979 arrest). Most famously, Joe Valachi, whose televised testimony in 1963 before a Senate committee essentially forced FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Bobby Kennedy did the forcing) to admit their was a 'Mafia.'

Gentile's account served as the most fascinating, if not most revealing look inside the criminal underbelly (albeit a memoir, which by nature is often self-serving) because unlike Valachi (a foot soldier) Gentile was a top guy.  Historical accounts of how and when Gentile's 'memoirs' came to fruition, now that's where history gets dark, elusive and truly makes research daunting. The various written accounts are conflicting, and that's of no surprise when considering the two primary investigative bodies (Anslinger's Bureau of Narcotics and Hoover's Bureau of Investigation) that delved into Gentile's life were almost polar opposites in terms of investigation 'style' and (as this author believes) the two investigative bodies were rarely on the same page, metaphorically and literally speaking.  The FBI Encyclopedia states Robert Kennedy infuriated J. Edgar Hoover (a common occurrence between the two, no doubt) when the former presented FBN files on over seventy mobsters compared to the latter's office dossiers which numbered around thirty.  The point being that the FBI took much credit in the 1960's but the real working knowledge of men like Gentile had been followed closely by the Bureau of Narcotics, and therefore it is more than possible that Nicola Gentile's early memoirs - if actually written as far back as some historians believe - were acquired and translated by FBN agents before the FBI even knew of such memoirs.

"Today, the same as he did yesterday, Nicola Gentile says: 'I am alive because I always acted as an honest man. I always worked for justice. I always respected the law.' In reality what he means is: 'I have always acted as an honest mafia man. I have always worked for mafia justice. I have  always respected the law of the mafia.'" - Felice Chilanti, notes translated by FBI.

Book Report

The official 'published' memoir 'Vita di Capomafia' was released in Italy in 1963 (and was originally going to be titled '40 Years in the Mafia'), and has not been translated from the Italian nor reprinted for retail sale.  Journalist Felice Chianti once said Gentile approached him to take the dictation and write the story, but he declined the initial request until Gentile agreed to allow for annotation.  From September through October 1963, Gentile and Chilanti  also did a series of columns for Rome's Paese Sera newspaper, further divulging the intricacies of mafia life, and more importantly for the Gentile - answering the question of Why he wrote his life story (again, generally self-serving, possibly to improve his reputation), which he said had a lot to do with redemption to the family he shamed. The FBI translated the manuscript and Paese Sera articles in November 1963.  But... the book was not an exact printing of the original memoirs.  Those original notes, though largely similar to the published version, bear a few differences, and were thought to have ended up in the hands of American law enforcement possibly as early as the late 1940's or 1950's.  Nicholas Gage stated in 1971 that the FBI acquired the memoir in 1961 after hearing about its existence from Italian sources. Gage also said the first time the memoirs were mentioned in the United States was in the book 'The Honored Society,' by Norman Lewis in 1964, and further discussed in Hank Messick's book 'Lansky'.
1940 From the Declassified Gentile Files

Nicola Gentile may have actually begun penning his story shortly after he skipped bond and fled to Italy in 1937. Then again, it's also possible he never dictated nor jotted a word until lawmen put him under pressure (some documentation states this occurred in 1958 after a letter to Joe Biondo was intercepted and agents basically caught Gentile in a sting operation).  Treasury Department declassified documents reveal that as early as 1940 (probably earlier than that) an agent of the Bureau of Narcotics - Frank Di Lucia - had made contact with Gentile. The Treasury Department (which oversaw the FBN) wanted Gentile back in the United States, but not to prosecute him.  With regard to the New Orleans drug bust, well, the Feds wanted Texas mobster Sam Maceo and they wanted him bad, and under that pretense they figured Gentile could deliver just the testimony they needed.  From March 1940 through 1942, correspondence was exchanged between the State Department, the FBN, Treasury Department, American diplomats, Italian police, Agent Di Lucia, and Nicola Gentile.  The deal to get Gentile (who was identified as 'Sam Mollica' - which was either a code name or his own chosen alias) into the United States, protect his safety, and get him back into Italy afterwards.  The deal never materialized.  Gentile assured Di Lucia he would do as asked, but the Italian government refused to issue a passport. If the deal had gone through, police in Palermo wanted the U.S. to deposit at least $9000  - just in case something happened to Gentile, and the money would be given to his wife, of course.  After memo upon memo, letter upon letter back and forth between agencies, the final determination stated that bringing Gentile to the United States wasn't worth the trouble, but... they wanted to keep lines of communication open. Although no specific mention of 'memoirs' were mentioned in the correspondence, the government did think Gentile likely had further information to offer, particularly on the traffic of narcotics.  Thereafter, documents make note of Sam Maceo and others indicted in the 1937 narcotics ring, some of whom plead guilty, some dismissed, others became fugitives.***

Keeping tabs on Nick

Between 1942 and 1947 Gentile was thought to have continued working within the Italian Mafia, assisted the controversial 'government/mob alliance' during WWII, and reunited with former American gangsters. The declassified Bureau of Narcotics paper trail picks back up in spring of 1947, showing their interest in two of Gentile's old friends: Giovanni Schillaci (exiled in 1947) and Charlie Lucky Luciano (exiled in 1946).  Italian police kept tabs on Luciano from the moment he arrived til the day he died, and in doing so they discovered what American authorities viewed as sort of gangland reunion.  The correspondence from Questura (Police headquarters) to the American Consulate, December 4, 1947, read:  "Schillaci arrived at Capri on July 3, 1947 together with Salvatore Lucania, the American citizen, Sharon Mildred Block, Saverio Cuccio, also an American citizen, Igea Lissoni and Ida Pogi..."

The letter later states that police lost track of Schillaci and Lucania after the group left Capri in September. Then Lucania was spotted by police in Rome, in November, with Nicola Gentile, whereby they listed the latter's criminal record: "The Questura in Palermo informed this office that Gentile was sentenced in 1900 to five months of prison for deliberate assault (lesione voluntare) that in 1929 he was acquitted by the Accusation Section of the Tribunal of Palermo of the charges of robber, extortion, and homicide, and in 1929 he was sentenced to two years prison and to liberty under surveillance for conspiracy. He obtained release from the above mentioned with decree of October 23, 1946."

Back to the 'Parrot' story, sort of...

Nick Gentile's early memoirs and published memoirs both described the 1931 hit on Maranzano, with a few subtle variations in wording between the two.

Here's how Gentile's original notes described Maranzano's murder and the actions taken immediately afterward:


“They hurried to telephones and informed the boys in various parts of New York advising them that they could start the purging operation. Almost immediately with that word there took place the slaughter of the ‘Sicilian Vespers’. In fact, many of the followers of Maranzano were killed, who were stained with the most atrocious wickedness.
No sooner did the news of the death of Maranzano reach Cleveland that I and Bazzano thought of eliminating Siragusa of Pittsburgh... ”
 
Compared to the 1963 published published version found in 'Vita di Capomafia':
Excerpt from pages of Vita di Capomafia


"They rushed to the phone to inform picciotti (the boys, slang for thugs, mafia friends) in different neighborhoods in New York who could begin the operation of purging.
So it was the massacre of all those followers of Maranzano who had committed the cruelest atrocities.

Once in Cleveland news came of the death of Maranzano,  Bazzano and I think to suppress Siragusa of Pittsburgh."


The published version didn't consistently share the colorful wording of the early translation, but basically the theme and gist of events remained constant.  Also of note, Gentile never explicitly states in the either version that he and Bazzano actually killed Siragusa.  This intentional 'leaving out finer details' is not surprising of course.  Gentile admits he has committed violent acts, confirms the brutality that is innate to mafia life, yet keeps most of the self-incriminating specifics under wraps throughout the memoirs - that is with the exception of when he felt wronged, and he tends to divulge much more detail in such instances.

Both versions of Gentile's life story regard his entrance into narcotics as almost forced. Although he may have taken a hit in the press when authorities labeled him the big shot of the drug ring (he probably wasn't the top individual, though definitely a major figure, and that later government correspondence admits the weakness of the case against him in the first place), his blaming the younger mobsters (Luciano, etc.) for pushing him into the lowly dope business, nearly ousting him from relevance, contradicts his later actions in Italy, which include remaining quite chummy with many of those old pals and associates.

1937 Captured in New Orleans with Gentile. Antoinette Lima & Mrs. A. Scontrino
Now things are about to get full-on bizarre

As for Gentiles life after the book release, stories later circulated that Gentile had been issued a death sentence,  for the second time in his life. This instance was deemed punishment for the published revelations, but the faction tasked with carrying out the assassination simply decided - for whatever reason - not to kill the old man.  Hmmm... but then there's this:

Sometime in the 1960's Soviet spy/KGB agent Leonid Kolosov befriended Gentile and recruited him as an unknowing informant. This particular segment of Gentile's life isn't a secret, nor a new revelation to most historians. However, as disclosed in a 2003 Italian Parliament transcript interview with Kolosov, the former KGB agent's story filled in a few gaps and contradicted original versions thereof. In a nutshell, Kolosov explained he met Gentile through Felice Chilanti (whom he described as 'lonely') and was offered the chance to meet the mafiosi. Now, all the while, according to the spy, Chilanti nor Gentile knew he was KGB, but probably knew he wasn't just a nosy Russian journalist. Kolosov asked his Soviet bosses for permission and they told him 'yes' but the responsibility was all on Kolosov's shoulders.  In the parliament interview Kolosov went on stating that Gentile was killed several years later. Kolosov mentions 1971, but later admits it could've been in the 1960's, and that Gentile's death had nothing to do with him. Pressed for clarity by the parliament, Kolosov said he visited with Gentile on several occasions in Palermo, whereby the Mafia capo revealed information regarding what later became known as the 'Piano Solo Coup Scandal.'  The parliament President reminded Kolosov that scandal occurred in 1964, to which Kolosov admitted his memory of dates could be off, but that in fact Gentile died several years later and that Kolosov's book - 'Farewell, My Dear Colonel' - even featured a photograph of the funeral.   If in fact Kolosov's account of Gentile's death was accurately recalled, then that would make the date of death somewhere between 1966 and 1972, approximately.  However, that he describes Gentile's death with the word 'killed,' and makes a point to clear himself from having had anything to do with it, contradicts previous (and often accepted) accounts of Gentile dying of old age (see below).
"At the end of his days, Gentile was a pitiful figure who only survived through the pasta which his neighbors gave him." - Pino Arlacchi, author of 'Gli uomini del disonore. La mafia siciliana nella vita del grande pentito Antonio Calderone,' 1992.



Treasury Department Bureau of Narcotics File


*Details on Gentile's exact date and circumstances of death are sketchy at best, and information is conflicting.  Nicholas Gage commented in 1971 that, to his knowledge, Gentile was still alive. However, a report allegedly from the FBI, dubbed the 'Dead List,' marks Gentile's death as 1966. Author Helen Womack's 1998 book 'Undercover Lives: Soviet Spies in the Cities of the World' , which covers Leonid Kolosov's association with Gentile, marks Gentile's death - heart attack - in December 1964.

** Gentile stated the commonly-called 'mafia' was actually known as 'L'Onerata Societa'

***The 1937 drug bust was, according to Gentile, a result of Gentile's girlfriend 'Dorothy' tipping authorities off. In his memoirs he strongly suspected she was actually an undercover FBN agent. The bust itself ultimately led authorities to link Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter, Ralph Liguori (already incarcerated with Lucky Luciano on the vice charges in 1936), and other New York gangsters including Charles La Gaipa, Gentile's son-in-law, who at the time had been operating in the Southwest.

Sources:
Ancestry.com
National Archives
Informer Journal
http://people.com/archive/in-the-literary-coup-of-the-year-the-f-b-i-grabs-mafia-leader-joe-bonannos-memoirs-vol-11-no-23/
http://internetmanasaynotocorruption.blogspot.com/2014/08/italy.html
https://www.tni.org/en/paper/rothschilds-mafia-aruba
http://www.thehistoryreader.com/modern-history/lucky-luciano-wwiis-operation-husky/
Dickie, John. Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia. Palgrave Macmillan LTD. 2004. pp 176-189.
Reppetto, Thomas. American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power. Holt. 2005.  pp. 190-192.
Critchley, David. The Origins of Organized Crime in America; The New York City Mafia 1891-1931, Routledge, 2008. pp. 168-173.
Cipollini, Christian. Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend. Strategic Media Books. 2014.
Wife Finds Husband Slain As She Returns Home From Mass. The Pittsburgh Press. 14 September 1931. p. 2.
Gage, Nicholas. New York Times News Service. Nashua Telegraph. April, 21, 1971. p.14.
Gage, Nicholas. Memoirs of a Elder Support Late Valachi's Testimony. The Arizona Republic. April 12, 1971. p. 8.
Newton, Michael. The FBI Encyclopedia. McFarland. 2012. p. 18.
RG 59 ARC Identifier 6100835 Gentile, Nicola

21 February 2017

Chicago gangland hit (long before Capone)

Chicago was host to powerful and violent Sicilian-Italian underworld organizations long before Al Capone arrived in the city. 

On this date in 1901: Salvatore DiGiovanni, regarded as a leader of the Windy City's Italian community, was fatally shot through the chest during an 8 p.m. scuffle in a dark alley off Grand Avenue near Milwaukee Avenue. (Another murder linked with the Mafia occurred at nearly the same spot, considered the heart of Chicago's Little Sicily, in 1899.) DiGiovanni was rushed to the hospital but died on the way.

Chicago Tribune, Feb. 22, 1901.
DiGiovanni, 50, had been a Chicago resident for a decade. Identified by the press as an immigrant from Naples, he was a political leader in Chicago's Nineteenth Ward. He likely also commanded a Neapolitan gang in the area.

Police investigating the incident found in the alley evidence of a struggle and two DiGiovanni revolvers, one with three chambers empty and the other unfired. A man named Carlo Battista was found at the scene and taken into custody. Witnesses in the area reported hearing at least five shots fired.

Detectives spotted a trail of blood leading from the alley. They carefully followed blood spots to the Erie Street bridge. At that point, they encountered a doctor who reported treating a wounded man at 141 Milton Avenue.

Police raided the Milton Avenue residence at midnight, finding a group of men huddled in a small room with numerous revolvers and daggers. They arrested Joseph Morici and eight other men. Morici had a severe bullet wound through his cheek and was taken to the County Jail hospital for treatment. During questioning, one of the arrested men revealed that Morici was president of an organization known as the Sicilian Society.

At the West Chicago Avenue Police Station, Carlo Battista told investigators that he knew DiGiovanni for some time and met him a day earlier for the first time in seven years. He initially said he just happened to be passing the alley following the shooting and found his old friend mortally wounded. After hours of questioning, Battista admitted that he was present during the shooting.

Police later learned that DiGiovanni had been lured from his home, 114 West Polk Street, by Sicilian rivals. Five Sicilian gangsters, including Morici, attacked him at the alley. Eventually, Joseph Morici admitted his responsibility for the killing of DiGiovanni but insisted that he shot the man in self-defense. Authorities concluded that Morici was leader of a band of Sicilian counterfeiters and "Black Handers."

Morici, a native of the Castelbuono-Termini area of Sicily, worked as a commission merchant in Chicago. His brother Frank ran a saloon at 57 Grand Avenue, close to the alley where DiGiovanni was killed. Morici's self-defense argument was convincing, and a grand jury refused to indict him for the murder of DiGiovanni. Years later, Morici was arrested following a series of suspicious fires.

Chicago's Little Sicily, Chicago Tribune, March 3, 1901.
Sources:
  • "Italian slain; plot suspected," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 22, 1901, p. 1.
  • "Alleged Mafia crime," Indianapolis Journal, Feb. 23, 1901, p. 5.
  • "Say revenge prompted murder of Di Giovanni," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 25, 1901, p. 10.
  • "Morici is accused," Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, Feb. 26, 1901, p. 4.
  • "Find Morici shot Giovanni," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 26, 1901, p. 4.
  • "Grand jury releases Morici," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 28, 1901, p. 12.
  • "Most dangerous neighborhood in Chicago," Chicago Daily Tribune, March 3, 1901, p. 49.
  • "Police hope now to solve puzzle of 'Black Hand,'" Chicago Daily Tribune, April 21, 1911, p. 1.