Showing posts with label Crescent City Lynchings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crescent City Lynchings. Show all posts

05 July 2017

Hennessys capture Sicilian brigand in New Orleans

On this date in 1881: Cousins David and Michael Hennessy, members of the New Orleans detective (or "aides") force, capture fugitive Sicilian brigand Giuseppe Esposito near the St. Louis Cathedral in the Crescent City.

Esposito
Esposito, also known as Giuseppe Randazzo and as Vincenzo Rebello, had escaped Italian authorities while headed to trial for homicide and other crimes. In the 1870s, he crossed the Atlantic and settled briefly in New York City before moving on to New Orleans. Police and press believed the Mafia of Palermo assisted in his escape and flight from Sicily. Esposito became the recognized leader of the Sicilian underworld in New Orleans, settled down and started a family.

He was betrayed to Italian authorities by some of his New Orleans associates. A U.S. private detective firm was hired to locate him and bring him to justice. Private detectives of the Mooney and Boland Agency worked through the New Orleans Chief of Aides Thomas Boylan to arrange the capture.

Esposito's arrest was conducted very much like a kidnapping. The Hennessys caught him alone, grabbed him and threw him into a carriage, taking him off to a secret location. He was prevented from seeing any of his New Orleans family or friends. The following day, he was smuggled aboard a steamship that was already underway for New York City.

The circumstances of his arrest and his New York City efforts to avoid deportation to Italy became international news and the subjects of Congressional inquiries.

NY Evening Telegram
In a series of hearings before U.S. Commissioner Osborn in New York, the prisoner contested his identification as the brigand Esposito and claimed to have been a good citizen in New Orleans at the time that Esposito was committing crimes in Sicily. Witnesses - some of whom were later linked with the Mafia - came from New Orleans to support his story. The prisoner had difficulty in explaining his documented use of aliases. His alibi failed when Italy sent police officials to New York to identify the fugitive brigand.

Esposito's deportation was handled as suddenly as his arrest. Once the U.S. Commissioner was satisfied of his identity and before any legal appeals could be considered, Esposito was turned over to Italian authorities and placed on a ship for Europe. His wife and child were left behind in the U.S. (Esposito trusted New Orleans allies to care for his family. They failed to do so and took Esposito resources for their own benefit. Esposito later tried without luck to sue them from his Italian prison cell. His wife gave birth to a second child after his deportation. Both children were later placed in New Orleans orphanages.)

In his absence, the Crescent City's Sicilian underworld broke apart into warring factions - the competing Provenzano and Matranga organizations.

The Hennessys became instantly famous following the Esposito arrest (though the local police superintendent accused them of insubordination for acting without his approval). Their fame came at a terrible price. Within ten years of Esposito's capture, both of them were murdered. In each case, the killings remained officially unsolved but were widely believed performed by Sicilian gangsters.

David Hennessy
Mike Hennessy, who relocated to the Houston-Galveston area and started a private detective business there, was shot to death a short distance from his Houston home on Sept. 29, 1886. He was shot repeatedly from behind. One suspect, D.H. Melton, was arrested but later released for lack of evidence.

David Hennessy became police superintendent in New Orleans and actively fought the local Mafia. As he returned home from work on the evening of Oct. 15, 1890, he was attacked by a group of gunmen. He was knocked down from a distance by a shotgun blast of bird shot and then mortally wounded by higher-caliber slugs fired into his body at closer range. He died the next day. The assassination of the police superintendent resulted in the imprisonment of members and associates of the local Matranga Mafia and later to the Crescent City lynchings.

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

02 March 2017

Disturbance at trial of Hennessy assassins

On this date in 1891, one of nine accused Mafiosi, standing trial in New Orleans for plotting and carrying out the assassination of Police Chief David Hennessy, created a sensation in the courtroom.

There had been just one day of prosecution testimony in the case, which began on Saturday, Feb. 28. Manuel Polizzi already had been identified by witnesses as one of the five gunmen who participated in the October 1890 murder of the police chief.

When brought into the courtroom with his codefendants on Monday morning, March 2, Polizzi hesitated to take his seat. He talked loudly in Italian and tried to get the attention of Judge Joshua Baker. Two deputies forced him to sit, but he once again stood and addressed Baker rapidly in his native tongue, waving his arms and punching at his own chest as he spoke. As a deputy attempted to force the defendant into his chair, Baker instructed, "Let him alone."


The judge asked defendant Charles Matranga (the reputed leader of the regional Mafia organization and an accused accessory to the Hennessy assassination) what was happening. Matranga replied only that Polizzi wanted an interpreter. "Talk to him and find out what he wants," Baker said. Matranga and Polizzi exchanged a few words, and Matranga told the judge, "He don't want to talk to me." Baker then attempted to use defendant Joseph Macheca (a politically influential, Mafia-linked businessman who also was an indicted accessory in the Hennessy killing) as an interpreter, but Polizzi was entirely unreceptive to that as well.

Before Baker could send for an independent interpreter, a defense attorney objected. "We would like an opportunity to speak to this man ourselves," attorney Lionel Adams said. "He is our client and it is our right."

Noting that Polizzi clearly had something he wished to express directly to the court, Baker brushed aside the complaint and sent for an interpreter. Baker met with Polizzi and the interpreter, as well as attorneys from both sides of the case, in his chambers.

Polizzi
Polizzi's statement to the judge was kept secret. However, when the group returned to open court, defense counsel Thomas J. Semmes announced that the defense team could no longer represent Polizzi. That appeared to confirm the widespread suspicion that Polizzi was turning state's evidence, but prosecutors apparently were unimpressed with the quality of Polizzi's statement and did not separate him from the case. Lead prosecutor Charles H. Luzenberg would not comment on the matter. (Though he did not speak of it, thanks to an undercover Pinkerton operative inserted into the Orleans Parish Prison with the defendants, Luzenberg possessed information others did not have about Polizzi's mental state and its underlying causes.)  Another defense attorney was selected to represent Polizzi, and the trial went on.

Polizzi was visibly afraid and tried to keep away from his codefendants. The court agreed to Polizzi's request to be held in separate quarters from the other accused.

Newspapermen learned that Polizzi made a confession "of a startling character" to Judge Baker, and they reported on his paranoid behavior. Defense attorneys told the press that Polizzi insisted both that he knew all about the conspiracy to murder Chief Hennessy and yet also took no part in the killing. They suggested that Polizzi was crazy. Reporters said they learned the defendant acknowledged being present when $4,000 was divided up among men selected to be the triggermen in the Hennessy assassination. He claimed, however, to have been at his home on Julia Street at the time witnesses saw him take part in the shooting of Chief Hennessy on Girod Street.

Just a few days after giving his statement to Judge Baker, Polizzi created an even greater disturbance, as he had an emotional breakdown in open court. When he was removed to the office of the sheriff, he attempted to throw himself through a closed window.

The trial continued until March 13, when a jury failed to reach agreement on the guilt of Polizzi and two other accused assassins and found the six remaining defendants not guilty. The New Orleans community became aware of evidence of jury tampering in the case, and Polizzi was one of eleven Italian inmates lynched at Orleans Parish Prison the next morning. Only much later was Polizzi's apparently irrational behavior at trial fully explained...


For more about this subject:
  Deep Water: 
  Joseph P. Macheca and the  
  Birth of the American Mafia
    by Thomas Hunt and 
    Martha Macheca Sheldon 
    (Second Edition, Createspace, 2010)

Sources:

  • "Desperate Politz," New York World, March 7, 1891, p. 1.
  • "Hennessy assassin confesses," New York Tribune, March 3, 1891, p. 1.
  • "Hennessy murder," New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 3, 1891, p. 6.
  • "Hennessy murder," New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 7, 1891, p. 3.
  • "The Hennessy case," New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 3, 1891, p. 3.
  • "Hennessy's murderers," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 6, 1891, p. 2.
  • "The Mafia at bay," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 3, 1891, p. 2.
  • "The New Orleans vendetta," New York Sun, March 3, 1891, p. 2.


13 January 2017

$5000 awarded to family of lynch victim

On this date in 1894, a federal jury returned a sealed verdict in a lawsuit related to an alleged New Orleans Mafia leader who was killed by a lynch mob three years earlier.

Rocco Geraci was one of the eleven victims of the Crescent City lynchings at Orleans Parish Prison in March 1891. He was one of a total of eighteen men arrested and held for trial as principals and accessories in the assassination of local Police Chief David Hennessy. The lynchings occurred after a jury failed to convict a number of the accused assassins.

As a mob swarmed the prison on the morning of March 14, 1891, the warden opened the cells of the Italian prisoners and advised them to hide themselves as best they could within the institution. Seven prisoners, including Geraci, Pietro Monastero, Antonio Bagnetto, James Caruso, Loreto Comitis, Frank Romero and Charles Traina rushed toward the women's side of the prison. A well-armed group of New Orleans citizens soon arrived at the women's courtyard, and the seven Italians emerged from their hiding places and assembled in a group in the corner of the courtyard. Some crouched and others knelt, begging for mercy. At close range, the gunmen opened fire. A second volley was then fired into the group.

Geraci was among the prisoners shot in the courtyard.

All but Bagnetto were killed by the gunshots. The gunmen dragged Bagnetto outside the prison and hanged him from a tree. Three other prisoners were located and killed on an upper floor of the prison. One other prisoner was hanged from a lamppost outside the building.

Suit was filed in the spring of 1892 against the City of New Orleans on behalf of Geraci's widow and their children. The city was charged with failing to adequately protect Geraci, a foreign national, while he was in government custody. Damages amounting to $30,000 were sought. The case was the sixth suit stemming from the lynching deaths to be heard in United States Circuit Court. Each of the previous plaintiffs had been awarded cash compensation from the municipality.

Geraci heirs began presenting their case on Jan. 12, 1894. Their first obstacle was proving that the Rocco Geraci killed at the parish prison was the same person as the Francesco Geraci noted in public records. Police Captain John Journee and local businessman Joseph Provenzano were called to the stand to establish his identity. Testimony resumed the following day with Geraci's brother Salvatore and businessman J. Salomoni. Closing arguments were delivered by the plaintiffs' attorneys Chiapella and Sambola and city attorney O'Sullivan.

Boarman
As in previous cases, the charge delivered by Judge Alexander Boarman to the jurors left them little choice but to find in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge apparently felt $5,000 was an appropriate reparation - he had already allowed for several retrials of cases in which lower amounts were awarded.

Jurors brought back their verdict just a bit late for the court session of Jan. 13. The verdict was therefore sealed. It was revealed as the court day opened on Jan. 14. The plaintiffs were victorious in the amount of $5,000.

As a number of the related lawsuits were brought up for retrial, the City of New Orleans found new grounds for its defense. It successfully argued that the articles of Civil Code protected the municipality against suits relating to loss of life (though it specifically allowed suits relating to property damage). A retrial of the suit filed on behalf of the widow and children of Pietro Monastero was found by Judge Parlange to have no merit. In a 20-page decision, Parlange supported the city's position that it was exempt from such lawsuits.

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