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

07 May 2019

Chicago fatal shooting no surprise to U.S. agents

Relatives, phony-money gang may have had grudges against Zagone

On this date in 1909:

Decatur Daily Review
Mariano Zagone, wealthy cigar manufacturer and leader in the Sicilian Mafia of Chicago, was shot and mortally wounded on the evening of May 7, 1909, at his son-in-law's Gault Court saloon. The shooting was not a surprise to some U.S. officials, who knew six years earlier that Zagone was to be put "on the spot."

Chicago Police arrived at the saloon, 154 Gault Court, about seven o'clock, to find Zagone unconscious and bleeding on the sidewalk outside. He had been shot through the temple. Police found a fully loaded revolver beneath him. Zagone was taken to Policlinic Hospital, a few blocks away at 219 West Chicago Avenue.
(Note: Gault Court ran between Oak Street and W. Chicago Avenue. It became Cambridge Avenue. One account placed the saloon at 134 Gault Court.)

Brothers Joseph and Carmelo Nicolosi, owners of the saloon, were taken into custody, though they claimed to know nothing of the shooting. Joseph Nicolosi, married to the daughter of Zagone's wife, told police he was speaking with a saloon patron at the bar when a gunshot was heard, rushed outside and found Zagone wounded on the sidewalk.

Chicago Tribune
Chicago detectives searched the saloon and found fresh blood spots near a chair by a cigar case. In the rear of the saloon, they found a blood-covered towel and surmised that it had been used to clean up a good deal of additional blood that had been spilled near the chair. Nicolosi said he did not know anything about the blood. Detectives decided that Zagone had been sitting inside the saloon when shot and then had been dragged out to the sidewalk.

Mrs. Biaggia "Bessie" Zagone was questioned by police. She had been nearby, visiting with her daughter Laura at Gault Court, when Zagone was shot. Detectives wanted to know if her husband had received any threatening letters from "Black Hand" extortionists. Bessie was allowed to return home after providing police with a statement:

"My husband has been shot at by someone four times in the last two years. The first time and tonight were the only times he was wounded. The first time he was shot in the back while entering the house at night and a short time after he was able to leave his bed and sit up in a chair a shot was fired from the street through a window at him. This missed my husband, but wounded my son Vincenzo in the left leg and arm as he lay in bed. A few months ago he was shot at a third time, the bullet coming through the front door, but missed him. I never knew my husband had enemies, and don't believe he received letters from the Black Hand."

Mariano Zagone lingered for a day and a half but never recovered consciousness. He died in the early morning of May 9.

Detectives understood that Zagone had enemies. The several previous attempts on his life dating back to November 1906 were well documented. But they found no enemies to charge with his murder. Instead, they had several Zagone relatives booked for murder. Joseph and Carmelo Nicolosi and Zagone stepson Joseph Spatafora were brought before Judge Bruggemeyer, charged and held to await the outcome of a coroner's inquiry.

The coroner's jury verdict on May 26 was unhelpful. It stated that Mariano Zagone had been killed by a person unknown. No convincing evidence turned up against the Nicolosis or Joseph Spatafora. The murder case remained a mystery in Chicago. But it was somewhat less mysterious to some federal agents.

Trouble with the boss

Giuseppe Morello, boss of bosses of the American Mafia, was arrested in April, 1903, in connection with Manhattan's infamous Barrel Murder. He also was suspected at that time of running an interstate currency counterfeiting ring.

Flynn
Following his arrest, New York Police and agents of the U.S. Secret Service searched a Chrystie Street apartment where Morello lived with his mistress and their infant daughter. During the search, Agent T.G. Gallagher observed the woman stuffing a package of papers into the baby's clothing. When the papers were removed, they were found to be a collection of correspondence between Morello and leaders of Mafiosi in Chicago and New Orleans.

The letters were examined at the New York office of the Secret Service. Agent in Charge William J. Flynn noted in his daily report of April 17, 1903, that some of the letters contained threatening remarks about a Chicago Mafia leader. The tone of the letters caused Flynn to believe the Chicagoan was already dead, and he reported, "The name Mariano Zagone is mentioned in some of the letters, if he is missing from #97 Milton Ave. Chicago, he may be the murdered man."
(Note: Milton Avenue was renamed Cleveland Avenue. The address referred to was close to the Zagone home on West Oak Street and to the Gault Court saloon. It may have been a Zagone cigar business address.)

A few days later, Flynn received a telegram from Secret Service Chief John Wilkie in Washington, D.C. Wilkie stated that Zagone "is at home, denies ever had any trouble with Morrello."

It is possible that Morello blamed Zagone for allowing law enforcement to learn of a Mafia counterfeiting network in Illinois, New York and New Jersey. The leader of that operation in the Chicago area, Antonio D'Andrea (a former priest and future Mafia boss), was recently  convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to Joliet Penitentiary.

D'Andrea
News released in May 1903 did not help Zagone's position with Morello. At that time it was revealed that the Secret Service learned much about the counterfeiting ring by infiltrating it through Zagone headquarters in the Nicolosi saloon. An undercover operative using the name "Joe Bassini" became friendly with the gangsters and provided information the Secret Service used to bring down D'Andrea. The Zagone gang uncovered evidence of Bassini's treachery but did not succeed in silencing the undercover agent.

At one point, Bassini was confronted by gang members at knifepoint. Threatened with death, he denied assisting law enforcement. Joseph Nicolosi, pretending to be convinced by the denials, stepped in to prevent Bassini's murder. He suggested Bassini and the gangsters patch things up and have a friendly drink. Bassini's drink was drugged. The agent awoke as a captive. Only by repeatedly pleading his innocence and claiming to need a doctor did he eventually win his freedom. On May 20, 1903, he returned with other Secret Service personnel and Chicago detectives and arrested Nicolosi. In announcing that arrest, the Secret Service stated that "the head of the gang of counterfeiters is alleged to be Mariano Zagona."

Zagone was soon arrested. The fact that he was found not guilty of counterfeiting may have convinced Morello that Zagone was secretly aiding law enforcement.

A house divided?

Detectives may have had good reason to suspect Zagone relatives of complicity in his murder.

Rumors surfaced about a Sicilian vendetta. Zagone reportedly stole another man's sweetheart. The man, not a gracious loser, swore to kill Zagone. Police were unable to confirm the rumors, but there may be some connection between them and known Zagone family relationships.

Shortly before marrying Zagone, Bessie was Biaggia Catronia Spatafora. She traveled to the United States in 1898 with her husband Gioacchino Spatafora and five children. The couple had a sixth child after settling in Chicago. The Spataforas appear to have been related by marriage to Rosario Dispenza, a Mafioso from the Ciminna area of Sicily who settled in Chicago in 1899. The Dispenzas and Spataforas lived along Milton Avenue, near Zagone.

About 1901, Gioacchino Spatafora died. The circumstances of his death are uncertain, but old age can be ruled out, as Gioacchino seems to have been in his mid-thirties. Might he have been killed?

Widow Biaggia married Mariano Zagone in October of 1902. Zagone became stepfather to the six Spatafora children and stepfather-in-law to Joseph Nicolosi (married to Laura Spatafora in January 1902).

If Gioacchino Spatafora was a victim of foul play, his kin would have had reason to suspect that the local underworld chief at least had knowledge of the matter. When that chief quickly took Spatafora's widow as his bride, a vendetta could have resulted.

Chicago Tribune 1914
After Zagone

Whatever led to the murder of Zagone, the primary beneficiary of the act seems to have been Rosario Dispenza, banker and saloonkeeper. Dispenza became the new Mafia boss of Chicago's Near North Side Sicilian colony. He also acquired the nickname "Heartless." It is known that Dispenza corresponded with New York-based boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello about Mafia matters. Dispenza's reign was a bloody one. The area near his business on Milton Avenue between West Oak Street and West Hobbie Street became known as "Death Corner."

Dispenza and a business partner, Anthony Puccio, were killed in January 1914, as Anthony D'Andrea brought Chicago's Sicilian underworld under his command.

Bessie Zagone relocated to Rockford, Illinois, for a time, living there with several of her younger children and working as a midwife. She died in Chicago, November 6, 1927, at the age of sixty-one.

(Note: Given the "G" sound of the letter "C" when pronounced by Sicilians, it is possible that Mariano's surname originally was Zaccone or Zarcone. That opens the possibility that he was related to Zarcone Mafiosi, originally from the Bagheria area of Sicily, who settled in Brooklyn, Chicago and Milwaukee. Like Mariano Zagone, a Giovanni Zarcone of Brooklyn had been involved with Giuseppe Morello counterfeiting operations and was murdered after a falling-out with the boss.)

Sources:
  • "Bad money gang raided," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 21, 1903, p. 5.
  • "Black Hand got wealthy Chicagoan," Decatur IL Daily Review, May 8, 1909, p. 1.
  • "Black Hand victim shot," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 8, 1909, p. 1.
  • "Booked on charge of murder," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 12, 1909, p. 4.
  • "Marriage licenses," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 7, 1902, p. 13.
  • "Repeated attempts to kill result from Italian feud," Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 21, 1906, p. 3.
  • "Would-be assassin shoots man at threshold of home," Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 7, 1906, p. 13.
  • "Zagone dies of his wounds," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 9, 1909, p. 2.
  • "Zagone murder still a mystery," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 27, 1909, p. 6.
  • Cook County IL Deaths Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Cook County IL Marriage Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Report, April 17, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Report, April 20, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Flynn, William J., The Barrel Mystery, New York: James A. McCann Company, 1919, p. 177-179, 206-214.
  • Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths Index, Ancestry.com; Cook County IL Death Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Aller, arrived New York on June 28, 1899.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Trojan Prince, departed Naples on May 24, 1899, arrived New York on May 19, 1899.
  • United States Census of 1900, Illinois, Cook County, North Town Chicago, Ward 23, Enumeration District 700.
  • United States Census of 1920, Illinois, Winnebago County, Rockford City, Ward 5, Enumeration District 201.

16 April 2019

Death of former Chicago gang chief goes unnoticed

Torrio founded Chicago Outfit
and mentored young Al Capone

On this date in 1957...

Chicago Tribune
May 8, 1957
Johnny Torrio, seventy-five-year-old former Chicago underworld boss, died April 16, 1957. His passing was virtually unnoticed. Newspapers were not alerted until about three weeks later, when his will was filed for probate.

Raised in the gangs of lower Manhattan's Five Points area, Torrio went west (along with longtime friend and fellow Five Points gangster Rocco "Roxie" Vanella) around 1909-1910. He became bodyguard, enforcer and business manager for Chicago vice lord "Big Jim" Colosimo - possibly a relative of Torrio's step-father Salvatore Caputo.

After a while, Torrio brought young Al Capone from Brooklyn to Chicago to assist him. Following Colosimo's 1920 murder, Torrio turned the Colosimo organization into a bootlegging operation and competed with other local gangs and the powerful Chicago Mafia for rackets territory.

A January 1925 assassination attempt convinced Torrio to retire as gang boss, and he turned his organization over to Capone. Following a jail term at Waukegan, Illinois, for Prohibition violations, Torrio returned to New York. He and his wife settled into a Brooklyn residence, spent winters in St. Petersburg and traveled abroad regularly. Torrio continued his involvement in underworld rackets, repeatedly running into trouble with the authorities.

The final decade of his life was spent out of the public eye. His last years were lived quietly in a recently constructed apartment building, 9902 Third Avenue in Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton section.

On April 16, 1957, he suffered a heart attack while in a barber's chair and was rushed to Cumberland Hospital (named for its first home on Cumberland Street but located on Auburn Place in 1957). He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. Torrio was survived by his wife of forty years, Anna.

NY Times, May 8, 1957

14 February 2019

Moran's men massacred

On this date in 1929...

Disguised as law enforcement officers, gunmen murdered seven members and associates of George "Bugs" Moran's North Side gang at 10:30 in the morning of February 14, 1929.

Chicago Tribune, Feb. 15, 1929.
The North Siders were assembled at the SMC Cartage Company garage, 2122 North Clark Street. A team of professional killers, two of them dressed as police officers, entered the building. Believing they were being raided by authorities, Moran's men cooperated and lined up facing a wall of the garage.

The helpless gangsters were then slaughtered in a hail of machine gun and shotgun fire. The killers escaped.

Belvidere Republican, Feb. 14, 1929.

Decatur Herald, Feb. 14, 1929.

Uniontown PA Standard, Feb. 15, 1929.

Boston Globe, Feb. 15, 1929.
Gang boss Moran, said to be the primary target of the attack, also escaped. Lookouts working with the hit team mistakenly believed Moran was present in the garage and initiated the attack too early. According to reports, Moran was just approaching the building when he observed what looked to be a police raid and decided on a different course. When he learned of the massacre, he went into hiding.

Minneapolis Star, Feb. 14, 1929.
The victims of the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre":
  • James Clark, 42. The top lieutenant of George Moran (and often referred to in the press as Moran's brother-in-law), Clark (born Albert Kachellek) had been imprisoned several times for robberies and parole violation.
  • Frank Gusenberg, 36. Often a suspect in burglaries and robberies, he served one jail sentence for disorderly conduct. He was considered an enforcer for Moran. He was the only one of the seven victims still living when police arrived. He died hours later.
  • Peter Gusenberg, 40. The brother of Frank Gusenberg, he was the top enforcer of the Moran bootlegging operation. He served several prison terms for robberies and parole violation.
  • Adam Heyer, 40. He had been in and out of prison since 1908, convicted of robberies, confidence games and parole violation. It was reported that Heyer managed the gang finances and ran the S.M.C. Cartage Company.
  • John May, 35. A former thief, he was an associate of the Moran gang and worked as a automotive mechanic.
  • Albert Weinshank, 35. A member of the Chicago cleaning and dying association, authorities believed he joined the gang when Moran was scheming to take control of that industry.
  • Reinhardt Schwimmer, 30. An optometrist, he often socialized with the Moran gang and bragged of his underworld association.
New York Times, Feb. 15, 1929.
Out-of-town gunmen working with Al Capone's Chicago Outfit are generally believed responsible for performing the massacre.


Sources:
  • "Doctor in massacre," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 15, 1929, p. 1.
  • "No one brought to trial for goriest gangland hit," Bloomington IL Pantagraph, Feb. 13, 1979, p. 6.
  • "Police records tell lives of gang slain gangsters," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 15, 1929, p. 2.
  • Binder, John J., Al Capone's Beer Wars, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2017.
  • Gomes, Mario, My Al Capone Museum, myalcaponemuseum.com.
  • Helmer, William J., Al Capone and His American Boys, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011. 
  • Helmer, William J., and Arthur J. Bilek, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Cumberland House, 2006.
  • Kobler, John, Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1971.
  • Koziol, Ronald, and Edward Baumann, "Chicago's grisly wall," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 13, 1987, p. 5-1.

24 January 2019

Torrio surrenders Chicago rackets after ambush

On this date in 1925...


Chicago rackets boss Johnny Torrio, at liberty before beginning a nine-month sentence for Prohibition violations, was shot and seriously wounded in front of his home on the afternoon of January 24, 1925.

The attack did not result in Torrio's death but it did effectively remove him from the Chicago underworld. Following weeks in the hospital and months in Lake County Jail in Waukegan, Illinois, Torrio sold his interests in bootlegging businesses and left Chicago. His top lieutenant, Alphonse Capone, took over Torrio's gang and built the Chicago Outfit.

Bullet holes in the Lincoln auto used by the Torrios.

A portion of the Chicago Daily Tribune account of the attack on Torrio follows:

John Torrio, czar of bootlegging and vice in Chicago, was shot five times yesterday in front of his home, 7011 Clyde avenue. He is expected to recover.
The assailants escaped. The police and the underworld are convinced they are gangsters loyal to the memory of Dean O'Banion, the beer runner who was murdered in his flower shop two months ago. O'Banion had challenged Torrio's control of beer running and was killed by Torrio's men, police are certain.
Torrio attended O'Banion's wake. His presence was interpreted by the underworld as a warning to any who challenged him that they might expect to sleep in silver-bronze caskets surrounded by thousands of dollars worth of flowers.
But Torrio's enemies were not cowed. A week ago they tried to assassinate his first lieutenant, Al Capone.
That attempt failed. Yesterday three of them lay in wait for half an hour opposite the Torrio home, waiting for Torrio to return. At 4:30 o'clock Torrio and his wife, Anna, drove up in a heavy sedan. While one of the gunmen remained at the wheel, the other two jumped out and shot Torrio, who tried to escape by running into the apartment building. The attackers leaped back into their machine and fled.
["Torrio is shot; police hunt for O'Banion men," Chicago Sunday Tribune, Jan. 25, 1925, p. 5.]

Mrs. Anna Torrio
The newspaper noted that Torrio left the country for a time following O'Banion's wake. It said that he and his wife traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas, before embarking for Havana, Cuba, and then reentered the U.S. at St. Petersburg, Florida, before returning to Chicago. The Tribune suggested that friends of O'Banion followed them every step of the way, waiting for an opportunity to avenge O'Banion's murder.

The trip outlined by the newspaper was not out of the ordinary for the Torrios, who frequently traveled inside and outside the U.S. (Their visit to Havana following O'Banion's death was documented by a passenger manifest of the S.S. Governor Cobb, the ship that brought them from Cuba to Florida on December 13, 1924.) But it is odd that Torrio was permitted to leave the country between his May 19, 1924, arrest on federal Prohibition charges and his January 17, 1925, sentencing.

Anna and John Torrio pulled up to their apartment building on January 24 in a chauffeured Lincoln automobile borrowed from a friend. Anna stepped out of the car and walked to the apartment steps, while John gathered a bunch of packages from the vehicle. Two gunmen - one carrying a shotgun and the other a handgun - climbed out of a gray Cadillac around the corner, approached Torrio and opened fire. Torrio made a dash for the building but fell to the sidewalk. The gunmen escaped in their Cadillac.

The chauffeur of the Lincoln, wounded in the knee by a bullet, drove off as the first shots were fired. He was later found and questioned by police. He refused to discuss the shooting.

John Torrio
Torrio, wounded in the chest, arm and jaw, was treated at Jackson Park Hospital. He also refused to provide any information to investigators. According to the Tribune, he told Assistant State's Attorney John Sbarbaro, "I know who they are. It's my business. I'll tell you later." The paper reported that Alphonse Capone was in tears when he rushed to his boss's hospital bed. After Capone made arrangements for Torrio's care and safety, he was taken in for questioning.

As a result of the shooting, federal authorities postponed for thirty days Torrio's scheduled January 28, 1925, entry into DuPage County Jail in Wheaton. Just two weeks later, however, Torrio said he was sufficiently healed to begin his sentence. He requested that he be allowed to serve his time at Waukegan in Lake County, which would be better able to treat any health complications. Federal officials found the request suspicious but granted it.

Allowing for a sentence reduction of forty-five days for good behavior, Torrio's sentence expired near the end of September. His release was held up when some accused the Lake County sheriff of providing Torrio with illegal privileges during his incarceration. It was said that Torrio had his own comfortable furniture placed in his cell, was permitted to possess a loaded automatic pistol for his defense and even repeatedly left the jail for nights out in the company of the sheriff.

Torrio remained in custody as hearings were conducted into the actions of the sheriff. He was released on a $5,000 bond on October 6, as federal Judge Adam C. Cliffe considered the evidence. Cliffe decided a few days later that there was insufficient proof of any wrongdoing. Torrio left Chicago almost immediately after the judge's decision.

John and Anna Torrio set out again that fall for Havana. They traveled with Alphonse Capone and his wife Mae. All four indicated that they lived in New York. They returned to the U.S. together through Key West, Florida, on November 14, 1925. Capone went back to Chicago as a newly appointed underworld boss.

The Torrios headed to an apartment on Shore Road in Brooklyn, where John Torrio continued his involvement in liquor-related rackets. In 1939, he was sentenced to two and a half years in federal prison for evading income taxes. Upon his release from Leavenworth, he worked in real estate. He reportedly died of a heart attack while in a Brooklyn barber's chair on April 16, 1957. He was seventy-five years old and had outlived his far more notorious protege Capone by nearly a decade.

Torrio's death went unnoticed by the media until more than two weeks later, when his will, leaving an estate estimated at $200,000 to his wife, was filed in Brooklyn.

Sources:

  • "Al Capone's mentor dies of heart attack," Bloomington IL Pantagraph, May 8, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Chicago police make big haul in war on beer," Freeport IL Journal-Standard, May 19, 1924, p. 1.
  • "Denies Torrio's plea," Chicago Sunday Tribune, Sept. 27, 1925, p. 2.
  • "Drop Torrio inquiry," Decatur IL Herald, Oct. 9, 1925, p. 1.
  • "Johnny Torrio gets 2 1/2 years," Brooklyn Eagle, April 12, 1939, p. 1.
  • "Johnny Torrio, ex-bootlegger who gave Capone start, dies," Richmond IN Palladium-Item, May 8, 1957, p. 9.
  • "Johnny Torrio, ex-public enemy 1, dies; made Al Capone boss of underworld," New York Times, May 8. 1957, p. 32.
  • "Johnny Torrio, once Capone's boss, is dead," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 8, 1957, p. 3: 11
  • "O'Bannion, arch gunman, killed," Decatur IL Daily Review, Nov. 11, 1924, p. 1.
  • "Pistol kept in cell," Cincinati Enquirer, Sept. 29, 1925, p. 3.
  • "Scarface Al Capone, ex-king of crime, dies," Brooklyn Eagle, Jan. 26, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Torrio and 2 aides admit tax frauds," New York Times, April 11, 1939, p. 1.
  • "Torrio free on bonds pending contempt edict," Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 7, 1925, p. 12.
  • "Torrio is shot; police hunt for O'Banion men," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 25, 1925, p. 1.
  • "Torrio offers $10,000 if jail lark is proved," Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 18, 1925, p. 1.
  • "Torrio under heavy guard as he quits jail," DeKalb IL Daily Chronicle, Oct. 7, 1925, p. 1.
  • "Torrio's power in rum ring bared," New York Times, April 1, 1939.
  • "U.S. is wary of Torrio's request for jail tonight," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 9, 1925, p. 3.
  • "Woman involved in Dion O'Bannion's murder in Chicago," Brooklyn Eagle, Nov. 11, 1924, p. 3.
  • Gordon, David, "Torrio admits guilt, halts tax evasion trial," Brooklyn Eagle, April 10, 1939, p. 1.
  • John Torrio World War II Draft Registration Card, serial no. U1962, Local Board no. 171, Brooklyn NY.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Cuba, arriving Key West, Florida, on Nov. 14, 1925.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Governor Cobb, departed Havana, Cuba, on Dec. 13, 1924, arrived Key West, FL, on Dec. 13, 1924.
  • Peterson, Virgil, "Inside the Crime Syndicate (No. 2)," Chicago Sunday Tribune Magazine, Oct. 14, 1956, p. 28.
  • Stelzer, Patricia Jacobs, Prohibition and Organized Crime: A Case Study, An Examination of the Life of John Torrio, master's degree thesis, Dayton OH: Wright State University, 1997, p. 7.

24 October 2018

Eleven years and a fine for tax dodger Capone

On this date in 1931...

Federal Judge James H. Wilkerson on October 24, 1931, sentenced Chicago Outfit leader Al Capone to eleven years in prison and a $50,000 fine for evading income taxes. Capone also needed to pay $215,000 in back taxes plus interest.

Chicago Tribune

One week earlier, a jury convicted Capone on five tax counts. Capone was found guilty of the felonies of evading taxes for the years 1925, 1926 and 1927, and of the misdemeanors of failing to file income tax returns for 1928 and 1920. The jury did not convict on counts relating to tax evasion in the years 1924, 1928 and 1929.

At trial
Judge Wilkerson sentenced him to five years in federal prison on each of the felony convictions, with two of those sentences to run concurrently. He added a year in Cook County Jail for the two misdemeanors. Capone had already been locked up in county jail for contempt, after it was shown that he pretended to be ill in order to avoid appearing before a federal grand jury.

As he returned to county jail after sentencing, Capone was in an angry mood and threatened a reporter who tried to photograph him: "I'll knock your block off." Later he pleaded with newsmen to put their cameras away. "Think of my family," he said.

Capone was refused release on bail pending the legal appeals in his tax evasion case. He brought his request for bail to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but that was denied on October 27. When his appeals were exhausted, with the Circuit Court's affirmation of his sentence in February 1932 and the U.S. Supreme Court's early May 1932 refusal to review his case, Capone was moved from Cook County Jail to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. His ten-year federal prison sentence would allow his release on good behavior in seven and a half years.

Capone's term in Atlanta was relatively brief. In the summer of 1934, he was transfered to Alcatraz Prison on the West Coast. His health deterioriated at Alcatraz. When he was freed from custody in November 1939, he was immediately placed in a Baltimore hospital for treatment of paresis. His final years were spent in retirement at Palm Island, Miami Beach, Florida. He died January 25, 1947.

Sources:
  • "Capone gets writ; sent back to jail until appeal made," Bloomington IL Pantagraph, Oct. 27, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Capone in jail; prison next," Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 25, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Capone loses his last chance to keep out of pen," Ogden UT Standard Examiner, May 2, 1932, p. 1.
  • "FBI History: Famous Cases: Al Capone," Federal Bureau of Investigation, accessed June 27, 2010. https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/al-capone (previously: http://www.fbi.gov/libref/historic/famcases/capone/capone.htm).
  • "Prison tonight for Capone," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 3, 1932, p. 1.
  • Certificate of Death, Florida State Board of Health.
  • Florida State Census of 1945.
  • Kinsley, Philip, "U.S. jury convicts Capone," Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 18, 1931, p. 1.
  • Pickard, Edward W., "Chronology of the year 1931," Woodstock IL Daily Sentinel, Dec. 30, 1931, p. 3, and DeKalb IL Daily Chronicle, Dec. 31, 1931, p. 6.
  • Prisoner Index, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.
  • United States Census of 1940, Florida, Dade County, Miami Beach, Enumeration District 12-42A.
See also:

03 August 2018

Eight "Black Sox" players banned from baseball

On this date in 1921...

Landis (center) as he is appointed commissioner

Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis announced on August 3, 1921, that eight players involved in the "Black Sox" scandal would never again be permitted to play organized baseball.

His announcement came one day after a jury found the players not guilty of conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the underdog Cincinnati Reds:
Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game, no player that entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed, and does not tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.
Freeport IL Journal-Standard

The players banned from the game for life were
  • Eddie "Knuckles" Cicotte, pitcher
  • Oscar "Happy" Felsch, outfielder
  • Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman
  • "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, outfielder
  • Fred McMullin, utility infielder
  • Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop
  • George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman
  • Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher

Landis, a veteran federal judge. had been given broad powers to protect the game when he was appointed baseball's first commissioner late in 1920. Major league ballclub owners feared at the time that the Black Sox scandal, just coming to light, would do permanent damage to the reputation of baseball.

Though there had been rumors about the 1919 World Series being "fixed" through the influence of gamblers, the 1920 regular season was almost finished when grand jury investigation was launched. Charles Albert "Commy" Comiskey, president of the White Sox ballclub, suspended the seven suspects who were still on his team (Gandil was no longer with Chicago at the time). This action was taken despite the White Sox remaining in contention for the 1920 American League pennant.

Eddie Cicotte appeared before the grand jury and admitted he was part of a conspiracy to throw the World Series in exchange for cash. Joe Jackson made a similar confession. Eight players were indicted for conspiracy in October 1920. They were placed on baseball's "ineligible list" for the 1921 season and  went to trial that summer. By the time of the trial, the Cicotte and Jackson confessions were missing, and the players were denying any cooperation with gamblers.

See also:

White Sox players indicted for throwing Series (Writers of Wrongs, Sept. 28, 2017)

31 May 2018

He fought the law, and the law lost

Chicago Outfit boss DiFronzo,
89, dies following illness

John DiFronzo, reputed boss of the Chicago Outfit, died overnight May 27-28, 2018, at his home in River Grove, according to published reports. (Chicago Tribune reports he died early May 28) He was eighty-nine years old.
DiFronzo

Criminal defense attorney Joe Lopez told the media that the crime boss suffered with Alzheimer's disease and had been "extremely ill."

DiFronzo was widely suspected of involvement in the brutal 1986 murders of brothers Anthony and Michael Spilotro (depicted in the film Casino). His role was discussed during the 2007 Family Secrets trial of Outfit leaders. But DiFronzo was not a defendant in Family Secrets, and federal prosecutors were unable to assemble a convincing case against him.

Attorney Lopez told CBS-Chicago that DiFronzo's greatest achievement was "beating the G."

The press frequently referred to DiFronzo as "No Nose." The nickname sprang from an attempted robbery back in 1949, though the details of that story are disputed. Some sources say DiFronzo jumped through a window to escape capture and had a piece of his nose sliced off by the breaking glass. (Actually, he neither jumped through a window nor escaped, but a glass injury cannot be ruled out.) Others say a bullet fired by a police officer tore off the nose...

Read a biography of John "No Nose" DiFronzo
on the American Mafia history website.


See also:

26 April 2018

Gangster Profile: Ted Newberry


“He must have done something. They don’t kill you for nothing.”

The above quote is credited to gangster Edward “Ted” Newberry, the last racketeer king of Chicago’s North Side, whose corpse was found on a lonely stretch of road in Indiana on January 8, 1933. So, who was Ted Newberry and what did he do to deserve the proverbial “one way ride?”

Ted Newberry
Newberry was born on Chicago’s Northwest side on June 28, 1898, and seems to have been involved in crime most of his adult life. As a young adult he had a job as a “superintendent” at the Checker Cab Company. What he did as superintendent isn’t known for sure but it probably had something to do with sabotaging rival Yellow Cab. While there he became involved with another infamous Chicago hoodlum named Eugene “Red” Moran, whose brother Robert, became head of the company and a lifelong friend of Newberry’s.

By 1924 Newberry had moved into bootlegging and was working with a guy named Leon Tarr, who had a working relationship with another bootlegger named Harry Callan. The latter catered to the well-to-do crowd of Chicago’s “Gold Coast.” According to Callan, he “tipped” Tarr off to a customer who bought $7,000 worth of booze but never paid Callan his share. Callan called him on it and a meeting was set up. Callan was waiting on a park bench when Tarr showed up with Newberry and another guy named Arresti Cappola. Callan said that he challenged Tarr to a fist fight but Tarr drew a gun and shot him.

Callan stumbled to a cop and was taken to a hospital where he spilled the beans on how he came to be shot. Newberry was picked up for the shooting but nothing came of it. A few months later however, he took part in the murder of an Innkeeper, which almost cost him his freedom.


Omar Finch, about 59 years old, and his son Cole, 29, had a good thing going. They bought denatured alcohol and redistilled it into quality grain alcohol which they resold to numerous other saloonkeepers.
On December 11, 1924, Newberry and three confederates, one of whom was purported to be his colleague from the Checker Cab Co., Eugen “Red” McLaughlin, posed as Prohibition agents and kidnapped Finch in an attempt to extort him.

Finch was transporting four barrels of alcohol when he was pulled over by Newberry and his confederates. After taking his, stuff, Newberry and his associates brought him to a hotel on Chicago’s North Side where they demanded $5000 to let him go. Finch told them that he didn’t have that kind of cash but that he could raise a thousand. Newberry agreed to accept that as a down payment. They made an appointment the next day to receive the money and let Finch go.

According to Finch’s son Cole, the following day his father decided that the four barrels of alcohol weren’t worth a grand, so he decided not to pay the money. Acting under the belief that Newberry and his gang were actual Prohibition agents and not murderous thugs, Finch and his son went and moved their still and all remaining evidence. Finch believed that Newberry and company couldn’t do anything with the four barrels of alcohol and that they couldn’t prosecute him after attempting to shake him down and then letting him go. Assuming he pulled one over on the agents, Finch blew off the meeting.

A few hours later the gang burst into Finch’s saloon. They called him a double crosser then drew guns and opened fire at the saloonkeeper. One bullet proved fatal and Finch died at the hospital.

Newberry’s involvement came to the attention of the police when two young bootleggers reported that a gang of hijackers had stolen their car and their liquor on December 10. The bootleggers said that the hijackers told them they could have their car and liquor back if they paid $200. They also stated that one of the men in the car was Omar Finch. The auto used by the gangsters was described to the police who were able to trace it back to Newberry.

Newberry's sedan
 After the murder of his father, Cole Finch left town but returned after the arrest of Newberry. Though his wife received calls threatening that if her husband talked he’d be dead in twenty-four hours, Cole assured authorities that he would testify.

A federal investigator stated that by posing as Prohibition agents, Newberry’s gang had extorted thousands of dollars from over thirty saloonkeepers. “A federal badge was found in Newberry’s possession, and we know he used it on more than one occasion,” United States District Attorney Edwin Olson told the press. “Conviction on that alone would mean a penitentiary sentence.”

Newberry at time of arrest
In addition to having Newberry’s car and badge, prosecutors also had Bell boys from the hotel where they kept Finch who could identify Newberry. They also had Cole and two other witnesses from the saloon that could identify Newberry as one of the killers. It didn’t look good for Newberry. But this was Chicago and although the lead up to the trial was well covered in the press, the trial itself was not. It wasn’t stated what happened but Newberry apparently went free.

By the end of the decade Newberry was a big shot on the Northwest Side of Chicago controlling the alcohol and gambling. He was considered a strong ally to the North Side gangsters headed by Bugs Moran. In fact Newberry was with Moran on the Morning of February 14, 1929 when the latter was on his way to the gang’s headquarters. As they approached their destination, they saw a couple of detective cars pull up so they took a walk. Who they thought were cops were actually gunmen employed by Al Capone who entered the garage and murdered seven of Moran’s boys.

Three months later Capone was arrested in Philadelphia on a gun charge and sentenced to a year in prison.

It appears that the Capone gang may have had their gun sights fixed on Newberry as well. On November 30, 1929, Newberry was slightly wounded in a drive-by as he was approaching a club said to be run by Moran’s gang A little over a month later, according to the Chicago Tribune, Newberry learned of a machinegun nest that was planted in an apartment across the street from his headquarters. Once this was found out, Newberry high tailed it to Canada and his second in command, Al Shimberg, fled to Michigan. Left to run things were subordinates Benny Bennett and John Rito, known as the “Billiken.”

Around the first of February Bennett disappeared. About a month later, Rito likewise disappeared but he didn’t stay disappeared for long. After spending two weeks under water, his body broke loose from its constraints and floated to the top of the Chicago River.

John "the Billiken" Rito
The day after the Billikin surfaced, Capone was released from the Eastern State Penitentiary and returned home. At some point a peace was made between Newberry and Capone and the latter recognized the former as the leader of the North Side. To commemorate, Capone gave Newberry a diamond studded belt buckle, a gift that the big guy seemed to bestow on a lot of his esteemed colleagues.

As the top man on the North Side, Newberry was frequently in the papers. He was said to be involved in bucket shops as well as an attempt to organize racetrack workers. He was also arrested for the usual stuff i.e. murder and bootlegging.



 
One murder that garnished him much attention was that of Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle when it was discovered that Lingle was killed with a gun that was sold, in part, to Newberry. Though the gang leader wasn’t responsible for the murder of Lingle, Jack Zuta, a North Side associate was, and, since Lingle’s murder adversely affected every gangster in Chicago, Zuta had to be killed. When he got his, witnesses stated that one of the gunmen was Newberry. The accusation was never proved.

The beginning of the end for Newberry came when Capone was sent away for good in the spring of 1932. Newberry and Frank Nitti, Capone’s successor, did not get along. Reasons given are that, with Capone gone, poor management plus lower earnings due to the depression, led to the Capone organization not earning what it once did. The North Side however, which catered to the wealthy, weathered the depression better and was still making money. Nitti and Co. began to eye Newberry’s fiefdom in a most coveted manner and they started to chip away at his empire. It was also said that Newberry owed the Capone gang a large sum of money and to guarantee a return they inserted a representative to oversee affairs.

The person they sent was Gus Winkeler, who had a good relationship with Newberry, but other Syndicate men followed. Soon, Newberry felt that he was being squeezed out. His response was to have Nitti killed. On December 19, 1932 police raided Nitti’s office and one of the officers shot the gang leader a number of times, supposedly in self-defense.

It was a sloppy attempt and Nitti survived. The wounded gang leader figured out straight away who was behind the botched hit and, less than three weeks later, Newberry’s body was found. Around his waist, the diamond studded belt buckle given to him by Al Capone; a reminder of the good old days.

Officer points to where Newberry's body was found

Sources:

Mr. Capone, Schoenberg, Robert, William Morrow and Company,1992
Al Capone and His American Boys, Helmer, William, Indiana University Press, 2011
Capone, Kobler, John, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1971
The Man Who Got Away, Keefe, Rose, Cumberland House Publishing, 2005


"De Luxe Rum Broker Shot" Chicago Tribune 09.27.1924
"Elite Rum Baron Ready to Give Up in Shooting" Chicago Tribune 09.28.1924
"It Was Shoot or Get Shot Says Leon Tarr" Chicago Tribune 10.08.1924
"Village Saloon Keeper Shot to Death By Gang" Chicago Tribune 12.12.1924
"Witnesses Call Newberry One of Finch's Slayers" Chicago Tribune 12.21.1924
"Seize Hijacker; Finch Slaying Solved, Belief"  Chicago Tribune 12.20.1924
"Detectives Seek Newberry's Pals" Moline Dispatch 12.23.1924
"Ted Newberry Indicted; Writ Moved Balked"12.23. Chicago Tribune 1924
 "Billiken Rito is Shot to Death; Pal is Missing" Chicago Tribune 03.17.1930
"Ted Newberry Taken on Gang Ride and Slain" Chicago Tribune 01.08.1933