Showing posts with label Gambling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gambling. Show all posts

05 December 2021

 Debby Applegate

Excerpt from Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age (Doubleday, 2021)  

From Chapter 6 - "Thumbs Up With The Mob"

Polly Adler wearing her first, fabulous mink coat, strolling the boardwalk in Atlantic City in 1924 with a pal. Photo from the Polly Adler Collection courtesy of Eleanor Vera.

 After three years of Prohibition, by the summer of 1923, New York City’s underworld was booming.  “It was becoming increasingly fashionable to make money any way you could – except by working for it,” remembered Polly Adler. “It wasn’t only angle-shooters and corner-cutters and big-city sharpies who were on the ‘get-rich-quick’ kick.”[1]

Nobody was raking in the chips like the bootleggers, grifters, gamblers who orbited around Arnold Rothstein, aka the Big Bankroll, the Big Jew Uptown, or the Brain.   Some were primarily bookmakers and game runners, others had been thieves, drug dealers and strong-arms for hire before he took them under his wing.  But in the last three years, Rothstein’s proteges had become New York’s “hoodlum aristocracy.”[2]   

Polly was always cryptic about how she met Arnold Rothstein, saying only that he was “a man whom I was one day to know well.”[3]   But that winter of 1923 her brothel became a favorite hangout of the Brain’s criminal cabinet. “My clientele consisted mostly of gangsters and hoodlums,” she remembered, “some of whom were to become the big shots of the day.”[4]


Arnold Rothstein, c. 1920-1928. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Collection (Library of Congress).

It was as gamblers that Polly became intimate with the bullet boys.  Rothstein’s informal syndicate of law-breakers ran private high-stakes poker games and floating craps games, immortalized in the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls.  To elude cops and stick-up men the games shifted every night through empty garages, hotels, warehouses, and the back rooms of speakeasies.

The most important of these early patrons – her “benefactor,” as one of Polly’s well-informed friends put it – was the rising “King of the Bootleggers,” William V. Dwyer.[5] “Big Bill” Dwyer was a roly-poly man, with a disarming smile and expressive blue eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses. Rothstein had financed Dwyer when he began expanding his operation from robbing industrial alcohol from government warehouses into international smuggling.   Big Bill had, in one gangland lawyer’s description, “an easy way about him and a fine sense of humor.”[6]  He was a glad-hander, who loved the theater and saloon life and preferred grease to violence.  

William Vincent “Big Bill” Dwyer when he was known as “The King of the Bootleggers.” Photo in the public domain.

Dwyer had recently joined forces with another of Rothstein’s proteges, Francesco Castiglia, who went by the moniker of Frank Costello. (It never hurt to have an Irish name when conversing with cops).  They were joined that fall of 1923 by Owney Madden, recently released from Sing Sing, who enjoyed a reputation as one of the most vicious of the city’s Irish gang leaders.

Big Bill and Owney were partners with another of Rothstein’s proteges, “Smiling George McManus,” in a number of lucrative gambling schemes.   George McManus was a brawny, barrel-chested fellow, with a lantern jaw and a wide crooked grin that lit up when he was in good spirits.  His family had deep ties to the NYPD, which frequently came in handy.

Big Bill and Owney were partners with another of Rothstein’s proteges, “Smiling George McManus,” in a number of lucrative gambling schemes.   George McManus was a brawny, barrel-chested fellow, with a lantern jaw and a wide crooked grin that lit up when he was in good spirits.  His family had deep ties to the NYPD, which frequently came in handy.

Both were extroverted Irishman -- Dwyer from Hell’s Kitchen, McManus from Harlem -- who relished the limelight and the role of lavish host.  They also shared that most valued of traits in a madam’s estimation: a total disregard for the value of money.  Dwyer was famous for never allowing anyone to pick up a check, no matter high the bill, and McManus was beloved by waiters, entertainers and gold diggers up and down the Avenue for dropping $20 tips without blinking an eye.  


George McManus in 1929, when he was on trial for murdering Arnold Rothstein. Author’s collection.

That fall McManus and Dwyer, along with Owney Madden’s brother Marty, were running the hottest regular crap game in New York, with action running as high as $700,000 some nights.   There was nothing like shooting craps to stoke the appetite for a prostitute, Polly soon discovered. “Money meant nothing to these fellows,” she remembered with pleasure; “they sometimes spent five hundred or more in an evening. Whoever won the crap game paid the bill.”[7]

The games didn’t start till nearly midnight and ran till four or five in the morning.  Winners looking to celebrate their good luck had to worry about muggings and kidnappings, so providing a place that was safe, secret and always open into the wee hours quickly made her joint the preferred after-hours clubhouse of the late night dice-tossers.  

“It had not occurred to me to sell drinks until one of the bunch remarked that I was a sap to let them buy their booze from a bootlegger and cart it up to my apartment,” recalled Polly. “Why didn’t I get smart and sell them drinks at a buck a throw?  I took his advice, and, in his own words, cut myself in for a nice piece of change.”[8] 

She encouraged the johns to buy drinks for the girls, padding the bills further.  Of course, a tipsy girl was an uninhibited playmate, but a sloppy drunk was no use to anyone.  So she employed an old trick of brothels, serving the girls cold tea brewed to match the golden color of rye and whiskey.  On a good night, her bar bills dwarfed her profits on the bedrooms.

McManus and Dwyer were two of the most popular men on Broadway, and with their seal of approval her house quickly gained a reputation among underworldlings as, in her words, “a sort of combination club and speakeasy with a harem conveniently handy.”[9]   

But the gangsters came at a high price.   “They were a wild bunch all right,” she mused. Like most of the male half of Broadway, they all adored practical jokes and pranks, the more elaborate the better.  “They liked a joke all right -- when it was on someone else,” especially George McManus.[10] “The kids with him played the jokes and he would get a hell of a kick out of it at my expense.”[11]

Polly could tolerate the pranks, the chiseling and small cons. Unpaid loans and bad checks – stiffs -- were regular thorns. “I have enough stiffs to paper my garage,” she groused while going through a box of old papers years later.  She was freshly annoyed by one dated October 22, 1923.[12]  “It was given to me by one of the McManus gang telling me that he was president of the bank. I was gullible enough to believe that,” she remembered. “It probably was the bastards [sic] way to teach me not to believe everything told to me.”[13]  

But it was the ever-looming threat of violence that really wore on her nerves. The brass knuckle boys were notoriously unpredictable, especially when they were on a losing streak or a drunken, coked-up spree.  To prevent friendly arguments from turning fatal, she requested the boys check their guns at the door, along with their felt fedoras and bulky overcoats.  “I usually hid them in the stove,” she remembered, “figuring it wasn’t likely anyone would get a yen to bake a cake.”[14]

While that cut down on random gunplay, it didn't do much to improve their manners. George McManus, in particular, was a dangerous wildcard. “McManus was always quiet, and a gentleman when sober,” said Polly.[15]  But when liquored up, his mood could suddenly turn mean, and his jokes became cruel and dangerous.

Nonetheless, it was a price she was willing to pay.  The gamblers and bootleggers were spending like mad and her reputation was spreading fast.  She bought herself some swell clothes and showy jewelry.  “I had a big important project those days,” said Polly. “I was saving up to buy a mink coat.”[16] On Broadway, a full-length mink was the sin qua non of the fashionable flapper, just as monogrammed silk-shirts and spotless white spats marked the new status of the bootlegger.  “I talked about it so much that when a guy was trying to make a point at craps, he’d holler, ‘Come on, little Joe! This is for Polly’s mink coat,’” Polly recalled. “They told me it brought them luck.”[17] 

Business was so brisk that it wasn’t long before she had the cash in hand.   The night she brought the coat home the fellows passed it around, while Polly chuckled gamely, playing the good sport and watching nervously in fear they would spill cigar ashes or drinks on the precious mink before she could safely stow it away. 

Later that evening, as she’d returned from the kitchen, one of the gang called out, “Put your coat on, Polly.  We’d like to see it again.”

But when she opened the closet, it had disappeared.  Polly began to panic. The fellows made a show of helping her search, clowning around as they bustled about the apartment. Suddenly, one of them cried out, “You little dope, why did you put it out on the fire escape?” The boys roared with laughter. 

“I laughed loudest and longest of all – with relief,” remembered Polly.[18] 

But not every joke was so funny.   Between answering the phones, keeping an eye on the bedrooms, and serving drinks – “whiskey for the guys, tea in highball glasses for the girls”  -- it was inevitable that there would be screw-ups.  One night, McManus picked up a glass, took a deep gulp, and began gagging and sputtering.  “I knew what had happened even before he swiveled around and hurled the glass again the wall, splattering tea far and wide,” remembered Polly. “Of course he knew he had got the drink meant for his girl of the evening, and at the rate he was paying, each drink cost more than several pounds of tea.” 

Everyone in the room froze, awaiting his response.

“Okay, Polly,” McManus said evenly, “so you got to make a living…Well, fix me another drink.”

But McManus “couldn’t stand being played for a sucker,” Polly remembered. “He had to get even.” [19]  The next evening he doctored a tray of drinks with Mickey Finns, a mild poison or emetic, usually a horse laxative mixed with crushed ice that induced vomiting or diarrhea.  Several of the johns spent the rest of the night vomiting in the alley, and the girls were so sick they couldn't work for three days. It could have been worse though; he could’ve used choral hydrate, better known as knock-out drops, employed in clip joints to rob customers.            

It was a devil’s bargain, courting them as customers.  But as she put it, “there was nothing I could do about it.  I had chosen running a house as my profession and whatever the customers did, I had to take it and keep smiling.”[20]

 

 

References 

1. Polly Adler, A House is Not a Home (Rinehart, 1953), 144.

2. Art Cohn, The Joker is Wild: The Story of Joe E. Lewis (Bantam Books, 1957), 113. 

3. Adler, House, 32.

4. Adler, House, 55.

5. “Special Adler Supplement,” 4, Virginia Faulkner’s Notes for A House is Not a Home;  New York Times, February 2, 1934, 9.

6. Leonard Katz, Uncle Frank: The Biography of Frank Costello (Drake, 1973), 63.  

7. Adler, House, 56.

8. Adler, House, 56.

9. Adler, House, 96.

10. Adler, House, 56.

11. Polly Adler to Virginia Faulkner, Dec. 10, 1951, Faulkner Notebook, 13, Faulkner’s Notes for A House is Not a Home.

12. Adler to Faulkner, Oct. 13, 1951, Faulkner Notebook, 17, Faulkner’s Notes for A House is Not a Home.

13. Adler to Faulkner, Oct. 13, 1951, Faulkner Notebook, 13, Faulkner’s Notes for A House is Not a Home.

14. Adler, House, 56.

15. Adler to Faulkner, Dec. 10, 1951, Faulkner Notebook, 13, Virginia Faulkner’s Notes for A House is Not a Home.

16. Adler, House, 57.

17. Adler, House, 57.

18. Adler, House, 58.

19. Adler, House, 56.

20. Adler, House, 58.

 

DEBBY APPLEGATE is a historian based in New Haven, CT. Her first book, The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for biography and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. Her second book Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age was published by Doubleday in November, 2021.

https://debby-applegate.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Polly-Adler-Madam-The-Biography-of-Polly-Adler-Icon-of-the-Jazz-Age-105313019559817


26 December 2019

Flamingo opens with three-day gala

On this date in 1946...


The Flamingo casino, financed in large part by underworld investments funneled through racketeer Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, opened its doors for the first time on December 26, 1946.

Cugat and Durante
A three-day opening event, December 26-28, featured entertainment by orchestra leader Xavier Cugat, singer and comedian Jimmy Durante, Broadway performer Tommy Wonder (a veteran of some Our Gang films) and singer Rose Marie.

At the time of the opening, the Flamingo's hotel section was still under construction, and management hoped it would be completed by March 1, 1947. Advertisements for the three-day opening urged southern California visitors to "fly up any day and come back the same night." Chartered planes departed for Las Vegas at 5:30 in the afternoon and returned guests by 1 a.m.

The Flamingo was billed as the "most luxurious night club in the world." Its advertisements vaguely (and somewhat conservatively) placed its construction cost at "better than $5,000,000."

That figure had risen dramatically in the months leading up to the opening, and it would continue to rise. Back in early October, the final cost had been estimated at between $2.5 million and $4 million.

The exterior of the casino was beige and brown. It was lined with bushes illuminated with red and blue lights. Numerous potted palm trees were placed around the establishment. An artificial green lake stood at one side. The large bar had green leather walls with many mirrors, a black ceiling and "tomato-red furniture."

Not the first

Flamingo may have been the "most luxurious night club" at that moment, but it was not the first Las Vegas hotel-casino to cater to wealthy gamblers.

El Rancho Vegas (opened on The Strip in 1941), El Cortez (1941), Nevada Biltmore (1942) and Hotel Last Frontier (1942) were already in operation and reportedly doing good business. Columnist Erskine Johnson noted in June 1946 that those ventures, set in motion before U.S. entry into World War II, remained "jammed" with visitors:

Movie stars, millionaires, socialites and plain John Does are standing two deep at the roulette and dice tables. Every gambling casino in town - and there's one on almost every corner - is grossing from $3000 to $5000 a night. And every night is like New Year's Eve.

Johnson reported rumors that the funding for Flamingo construction was coming from Barbara Hutton, heiress to portions of the Woolworth retail and Hutton financial services fortunes. According to Johnson, Hutton was "sinking a small fortune" into the project, "which will be a gilt casino with hotel attached."

Los Angeles Times, Dec. 24, 1946

Priorities

Flamingo construction was repeatedly delayed for various reasons. At least twice in the summer and fall of 1946, the project was halted for a review by the federal government's Civilian Production Administration (CPA).

The year-old CPA, a postwar version of the War Production Board, was tasked with prioritizing the use of construction resources. In spring 1946, CPA had put a temporary stop on all non-essential commercial building not already started in order to concentrate resources on the housing needs of returning U.S. servicemen.

Columnist Hedda Hopper called attention to the Flamingo construction and a wider building boom in the Las Vegas area in a September 10 column. She also mentioned financial backer Siegel by name:

A huge night club, backed by Bugsy Siegel and called the Flamingo, was started only a few months ago. It features four swimming pools, and reservations are already being taken for a November opening. Yet our returned soldiers can't even find a shed for shelter.

The "only a few months ago" remark was a problem, as it suggested the building effort began after the March 26 effective date of CPA's Veterans Housing Project No. 1 regulation. A federal compliance commissioner reviewed the project in mid-September and announced that work on the night club had started before March 26 and that the planned hotel and connecting shops of the horseshoe-shaped complex were merely phases of the project already underway and not separate projects.

That decision was pushed aside in early October, as the CPA ordered a halt to the project and conducted a further review. At that moment, reports indicated that just $400,000 - about one-tenth of what was then the expected project cost - had been spent on construction.

Focus on casino

Resources appear to have been channeled into the completion of the casino before year-end. The casino was mentioned regularly in the press during the month of December.

  • Columnist Leonard Lyons wrote on December 19 that the movie and radio comedy team of Abbott and Costello had committed to work at the Flamingo for pay of $15,000 a week.
  • Columnist Louella O. Parsons commented a few days later: "Quite a lot of people are goig to Las Vegas the 26th and 27th for the opening of the Flaming." Parsons mentioned that Cugat and Durante had been booked as entertainers.
  • Columnist Hedda Hopper immediately expressed surprise: "I can't believe Jimmy Durante will give a two-week guest shot to the new Flaming gambling casino in Las Vegas."
Benjamin Siegel and George Raft
Opulent playground

One of those covering Flamingo's opening was journalist Bob Thomas. He reported that "a covery of movie names flew over for the opening, including Lon McAllister, George Sanders, Sonny Tufts, Charles Coburn, Vivian Blaine, George Raft, Eleanor Parker and George Jessel."

Thomas said the older hotel-casinos in the area responded to the big-name talent booked at the Flamingo by providing their own entertainment. El Rancho Vegas, he reported, hired comedians the Ritz Brothers and singer Peggy Lee.

He noted that Las Vegas at that moment had "more big-time entertainment than one could find in a week of touring Hollywood night spots."

While the entertainment brought publicity to the Vegas establishments, Thomas reminded his readers that the casinos' wealth was generated through constant gambling. He noted that in the Flamingo casino, patrons at roulette, crap, 21 and chuckaluck tables were busily helping "to defray the $5,000,000 cost of the place." And he confessed, "I made my contribution at a nickel slot machine."

In a United Press report of the opening, the financial backers of the casino were named as Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel; Harry Rothberg, vice president of American Distillers; Billy Wilkerson, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter; and Joe Ross, Hollywood attorney.

Problems ahead

The enthusiastic contributions made by gamblers were not sufficient to please Flamingo's investors. In the weeks following the opening, there were reports that the casino's income was not close to covering its expenses and there was evidence that Siegel was scrambling to keep the business afloat. Newspapers said he took out a $1 million loan in order to pay off a contractor.

Siegel's underworld friends expressed their unhappiness with his management of the casino on June 20, 1947. On that evening, less than six months after the Flamingo's opening gala, Siegel was shot to death.


Sources:

  • "An evening in Las Vegas," Los Angeles Times, advertisement, Dec. 24, 1946, p. 4.
  • "Flamingo hotel permit allowed," Nevada State Journal, Sept. 15, 1946, p. 21.
  • "Las Vegas club building halted," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 1, 1946, p. 6;
  • "Nevada politics," Nevada State Journal, Oct. 20, 1946, p. 19.
  • "New colossus on the desert," Des Moines IA Register, Jan. 1, 1947, p. 5.
  • "State boss of bookmaking slain in south," San Mateo CA Times, June 21, 1947, p. 1.
  • "Work halted on Las Vegas club pending probe," Santa Cruz CA Sentinel, Oct. 3, 1946, p. 8.
  • "Work is halted on Vegas club," Nevada State Journal, Oct. 3, 1946, p. 4;
  • Hopper, Hedda, "Hedda Hopper in Hollywood," Miami News, Dec. 23, 1946, p. 11.
  • Hopper, Hedda, "Looking at Hollywood," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 10, 1946, p. 11.
  • Johnson, Erskine, "In Hollywood," Visalia CA Times-Delta, June 14, 1946, p. 10.
  • Lyons, Leonard, "Broadway Medley," San Mateo CA Times, Dec. 19, 1946, p. 12.
  • Lyons, Leonard, "The Lyons den," Oakland Tribune, Dec. 22, 1946, p. Mag. 5.
  • Parsons, Louella O., "Deborah Kerr and Gable cast in another picture," San Francisco Examiner, Dec. 23, 1946, p. 9.
  • Thomas, Bob, "Las Vegas is called new Barbary Coast," Oakland Tribune, Dec. 30, 1946, p. 6.

12 January 2019

Cali cops called for Caddy corpse

Cleveland-connected
killer confesses


Petro
On this date in 1969...

On Sunday, Jan. 12, 1969, police found a dead man behind the wheel of a '66 Cadillac convertible parked in the Los Angeles International Airport lot. There was a small-caliber bullet wound at the base of the man's skull. The man had been dead for a couple of days.

A local resident, departing the airport Saturday for a one-day flight, parked near the Cadillac and noticed the driver slumped over the steering wheel. When the resident returned Sunday night and found the Cadillac and its driver in the same position, he alerted police.

No identifying papers were found on the body. Police used fingerprints to identify the victim as forty-six-year-old former Cleveland robber/safecracker Julius Petro. They learned that Petro had borrowed the Cadillac from a woman friend two days earlier.

Petro had survived at least two brushes with death during his young adult years in Ohio. He was sentenced to be executed for murder, but won a retrial on appeal and in 1948 was acquitted of that murder. Months later, he and four accomplices held up the Mafia-linked Green Acres casino outside of Youngstown, Ohio. The robbers took about $30,000 in cash and jewels, including a large diamond ring belonging to regional gambling boss Joseph DiCarlo. Shots were exchanged between the robbers and casino guards. Petro suffered gunshot wounds to his right chest and arm, but managed to recover.

An early 1950s bank robbery conviction sent Petro to prison for about thirteen years. Following his May 1966 release, he joined a wave of Cleveland-area racketeers relocating to California. Initially serving as an enforcer for a gambling operation, in a short time Petro was viewed as a threat to displace racket overseer John G. "Sparky" Monica. The killing of Petro eliminated that threat.

Ferritto
Authorities were unable to solve the Petro murder until about a decade later, when Raymond W. Ferritto became an informant and confessed that he performed the killing for Monica. He said he shot Petro on January 10, 1969. Ferritto, a western Pennsylvania native connected with the Cleveland Mafia, also confessed to participating in the 1977 bombing murder of Cleveland mobster Danny Greene.

Monica denied any involvement, but he was indicted for hiring Ferritto and a man named Robert Walsh to kill Petro because Petro was extorting money from him. Prosecutors seeking to bring the gambling boss to trial encountered a number of obstacles that delayed for years a preliminary hearing in the case. A Monica arraignment was finally set for Monday, February 22, 1982. Just a few days before that, however, fifty-six-year-old Monica, free on bail, died in a traffic accident on US-70 near Tularosa, New Mexico.

Investigators were able to track some of Monica's movements and guessed that he was returning from a visit to a girlfriend in Odessa, Texas, when the highway accident occurred.

Sources:
  • “Petro, freed in killing, is found shot,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sept. 18, 1948.
  • "Reputed Mafia figure," Los Angeles Times, Feb. 19, 1982, p. 35.
  • California Death Index.
  • Demaris, Ovid, The Last Mafioso, New York: Bantam Books, 1981.
  • Dye, Lee, “Parolee’s murder mystifies police,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 16, 1969, p. 1
  • Farr, Bill, “’Hit man’ admits murder at airport,” Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1978, p. 5
  • Hazlett, Bill, "1969 gangland slaying case headed for trial," Los Angeles Times, Feb. 8, 1982, p. II-6.
  • Hazlett, Bill, "Judge to appeal closed hearing order," Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1979, p. II-4.
  • Hertel, Howard, and Gene Blake, "Reputed Mafia chief defies court, jailed," Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1969, p. 1.
  • Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II, 2013.
  • "Fatal wreck adds twist to murder," El Paso Times, March 17, 1982, p. 11.
  • Petro v. United States, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Feb. 12, 1954. (Also Joseph J. Sanzo v. U.S.)
  • Porrello, Rick, Superthief, Next Hat Press, 2006.
  • Porrello, Rick, To Kill the Irishman, Next Hat Press, 1998.
  • Social Security Death Index.
See also:

16 August 2018

'Dandy Phil' exits in his pajamas

On this date in 1962...

Shreveport Times
Nancy Kemp, a private nurse caring for aging gambling racketeer Philip F. "Dandy Phil" Kastel, was startled by the sound of a gunshot on Thursday, August 16, 1962. The noise came from inside Kastel's ninth-floor apartment at New Orleans' Claiborne Towers, Claiborne Avenue and Canal Street.

Entering the bedroom of her patient, she found a pajama-clad Kastel slumped in a chair, a gunshot wound through his skull and a .38-caliber handgun on the floor beside him.

Kastel's wife Margaret, who had a separate bedroom, was awakened by the shot. She was terribly upset but apparently not surprised by the obvious suicide. Phil Kastel had been distraught by his failing eyesight and a recent discovery of cancer in his abdomen. When police arrived, she told them that her husband had spoken about killing himself.

Police found the bullet that caused Kastel's death embedded in the bedroom wall. A coroner's examination determined officially that the wound was self-inflicted and confirmed the diagnosis of cancer.



Philip Kastel
Government records and press reports indicated that "Dandy Phil," longtime gambling racketeer and close friend of New York-based crime boss Frank Costello, was sixty eight years old at the time of his death. That was probably just an estimate, as available Kastel-related records suggest a range of birthdates spread out across more than a decade.

Census records believed to be of Philip Kastel's family in 1905 and 1910 suggest that he may have been as old as seventy-seven when he passed. A World War II draft registration card shows Kastel's birthdate as April 2, 1891, making him seventy-one. The 1940 U.S. Census suggests a birth year of 1892 or 1893, making him sixty-nine or seventy. During a 1931 trip to Havana, Cuba, Kastel said he was born on March 2, 1893. Social Security records contain a birthdate of April 2, 1893. Those birthdates would have made him sixty-nine.

When Kastel was called to testified before the Senate's Kefauver Committee in 1951, he told the committee that he was born in New York in 1898. If that was true, it would have made him just sixty-three or sixty-four when he breathed his last.

10 August 2018

Dallas gambling chief ends his own life

On this date in 1932...

Warren Diamond, fifty-five-year-old Prohibition-Era gambling czar of Dallas, Texas, ended his own life at his Highland Park West home on August 10, 1932.

Austin American Statesman
Diamond had been a patient at St. Paul Hospital (formerly St. Paul Sanitarium, located at the western corner of Bryant Street and Hall Street). Early on the morning of Wednesday, August 10, he decided to leave the hospital. He called for a taxi and rode three and a half miles to 4224 Armstrong Parkway, the large home he shared with his wife Nellie. A surprised and uneasy Nellie greeted him at the door. Diamond brushed past her and proceeded to his upstairs bathroom. Knowing that her husband had been despondent over his health issues, Nellie quickly summoned George Foote, Diamond's longtime friend and business associate.

A short time later, a gunshot was heard.

Foote entered the bathroom and found Diamond dead of a bullet wound to the head. An automatic pistol was on the floor a couple of feet from Diamond's body. A coroner's investigation determined that Diamond committed suicide at about 8:45 a.m.

Newspaper reports of his death referred to the gambling racketeer as a "sportsman and philanthropist" and as a former druggist. Later reports revealed that he suffered from an untreatable cancer of the prostate and his deteriorating condition drove him to suicide.

Diamond death certificate
Diamond's funeral was held on the morning of Friday, August 12. The Rev. Louis Harrington, pastor of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, conducted the services. Diamond was interred in a family mausoleum he earlier constructed at the Grove Hill Cemetery. His pallbearers included two of his known lieutenants, F.L. "Dub" McClanahan and Ben Whitaker.

(Findagrave.com)
Diamond's gambling empire, assembled over decades, was dismantled after his death. George Foote, his top aide, reportedly took over the Dallas-area policy (numbers) rackets. Ben Whitaker, who also dabbled in bootlegging, assumed control over the bookmakers and wire news service. Dub McClanahan took the popular no-limit craps games.

Gambling operations within Diamond's old headquarters at the St. George Hotel, between Main Street and Commerce Street, were taken over by Dallas Mafioso Joseph Civello. Civello's operation, which included craps, bookmaking and a race wire service, was said to be under the protection of the local police department.

Behind the scenes, a former Warren Diamond apprentice was scheming to take control of it all. Benjamin "Benny" Binion reportedly broke away from the Diamond organization in the latter half of the 1920s and established his own organization at Dallas's Southland Hotel. His operation was said to be protected by Galveston-based mob boss Sam Maceo.

St. George Hotel on Main Street (smu.edu)

Just a few years after Diamond's death, Binion was regarded as the top man in Dallas gambling. In 1936, he started to force independent bookmakers to make protection payments to him. Control of policy rackets was nailed down with the fatal shooting of holdout independent operator Ben Frieden in September of that year. The St. George Hotel gaming rooms fell under his control when Joseph Civello was arrested on a federal narcotics charge (local police protection was little help). Years later, Civello was released from prison and pardoned after evidence surfaced that his own attorney and his trial judge conspired to remove him from the Dallas gambling scene through a narcotics frame-up.

Political changes in the late 1940s made Dallas an unfriendly place for Benny Binion. He moved on to become a key figure in the growth of gambling casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sources:
  • Cartwright, Gary, "Benny and the boys," Texas Monthly, October 1991, p. 137.
  • Edgerton, Harold J., "Joseph Francis Civello," FBI report, file no. 92-2824-137, NARA no. 124-10290-10440, May 17, 1968, p. 26-29.
  • Glass, Mary Ellen, excerpts of interview of Lester Ben "Benny" Binion, "World Series of Poker: A retrospective," University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Center for Gaming Research, May 20, 2009, accessed Aug. 9, 2018. (https://gaming.unlv.edu/WSOP/BennyBinion.html)
  • Kuykendall, Leo E., "Lester Benjamin Binion," FBI report, file no. 92-3241-7, NARA no. 124-90088-10054, Feb. 28, 1958, p. 11-12.
  • Reid, Ed and Ovid Demaris, The Green Felt Jungle, Cutchogue NY: Buccaneer Books, 1963.
  • Death certificate of Warren H. Diamond, Texas State Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, certificate no. 33744, Aug. 1, 1932.
  • John F. Worley Directory Co.'s Dallas City Directory 1925, Dallas: John F. Worley Directory Co., 1925, p. 866.
  • Worley's Dallas City Directory 1929 Vol. XLII, Dallas: John F. Worley Directory Co., 1929, p. 361.
  • Worley's Dallas City Directory 1932 Vol XLV, Dallas: John F. Worley Directory Co., 1932, p. 615.
  • "Warren Diamond ends life after leaving hospital," Dallas Morning News, Aug. 11, 1932, p. 1. Funeral announcement, Dallas Morning News, Aug. 12, 1932.
  • "Wealthy sportsman found dead at Dallas," Austin American Statesman, Aug. 10, 1932, p. 1.
  • McCormick, Harry, "Crime in Texas III: Benny Binion Dallas' gift to racket ranks," Dallas Morning News, Feb. 13, 1951, p. 1.

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)

05 June 2018

Buckshot finishes Tampa big shot

On this date in 1950:



James Lumia, businessman, gambling rackets boss and Tampa Mafia leader, was in his car, double-parked on 19th Street near Harper Street(*) in the Palmetto Beach neighborhood south of Ybor City. The headquarters of his gasoline and oil distributing company was close by. It was about 10 o'clock Monday morning, June 5, 1950, and he had stopped to give some instructions to employees Fernando Gil and Gaspar Montes, parked in a Chevrolet pickup used for oil company maintenance work.

James Lumia
As he spoke to the men through the passenger side window of his new, green, Chrysler sedan, a blue Ford pulled alongside and slightly in front of him. The driver of the Ford tapped his horn, causing Lumia to turn to his left and look out his window. A man rose from the Ford's back seat and fired a shotgun into Lumia's face.

The buckshot blast tore off the top front of Lumia's head, leaving a five-inch wound that stretched from "an inch or so below his eyes to some distance above the hair line." Blood, flesh and brain tissue were splattered about the inside of the vehicle. The gunman's car then drove off. In a futile effort to save his boss, Gil climbed into the driver's side of Lumia's car, pushing Lumia just enough to the right to allow him space on the seat, and raced off toward the hospital. Montes got the attention of off-duty Hillsborough County, Florida, Deputy Sheriff George Penegar, who was driving by, and told him to follow the gunman.

The speeding Chrysler caught Penegar's eye, and the deputy sheriff pursued it rather than the Ford. He stopped Gil at the busy intersection of 19th Street and Adamo Drive. Penegar seized a pistol found in the vehicle and called for an ambulance.

It took Lumia's forty-seven-year-old body nearly a half hour from the time of the shooting to acknowledge what was obvious to everyone else: Lumia was dead. His breathing reportedly continued for about fifteen minutes after he reached the hospital.

Lumia's funeral was held on Wednesday afternoon, June 7. He was entombed in the family mausoleum at L'Unione Italiana Cemetery.

Traffic is directed around the Lumia automobile.

Police investigators were quickly frustrated. Gil and Montes said they could not recall any helpful details about the gunman's car or its occupants. Their instincts for self-preservation may have clouded their memories.

There was reason to believe that the brothers of crime figure Jimmy Velasco, shot to death in 1948, had set up the killing of Lumia to avenge Jimmy. When Jimmy Velasco's accused killer, Joseph Provenzano, was brought to trial in 1949 (he was acquitted), Velasco's widow testified that Lumia was a leader of a regional gambling syndicate and an enemy of her husband.

Detectives questioned Roy and Arthur Velasco about the shooting of Lumia. Though neither was at all upset at learning of Lumia's demise, each provided alibis. The possibility that Lumia had a falling out with underworld figure Salvatore "Red" Italiano could not be pursued, as Italiano was known to be away in Italy, arranging wine deals for his Tampa business.

Lumia's name had been mentioned in the press recently in connection with the trial of several - including Roy and Arthur Velasco - who were accused of plotting to kill Hillsborough County Sheriff Hugh Culbreath. Defense attorneys suggested that the plot against Culbreath was fabricated by Lumia, Italiano and Primo Lazzara, working with Culbreath, in order to halt the Velasco brothers' investigation into Jimmy Velasco's murder. The defense wanted to call Lumia, Italiano and Lazzara as witnesses, but they could not be located. The trial was paused on May 11 at the request of the defense. At the time Lumia was murdered, he was scheduled to appear as a witness when the trial resumed in mid-June.

Lumia was known to be well connected politically and was found to have close acquaintances in the Mafia across the U.S. Within the Tampa area, Lumia had kinship ties to the Diecidue and Antinori clans. It was later revealed that the godfather of Lumia's son was Pittsburgh Mafia leader John LaRocca and that LaRocca attended the wedding of Lumia's daughter. (Pittsburgh area Mafia leader Gabriel Kelly Mannarino later served as godfather to a Lumia grandchild.) Upon the arrest of southern California crime boss Jack Dragna, Lumia's telephone number was found to be in Dragna's possession.

The interior of Lumia's Chrysler is examined.

Local police Chief J.L. Eddings told the press of rumors that Lumia worked in the background of the regional gambling syndicate. He noted, however, that Lumia had never been arrested.

A week and a half after the Lumia murder, with the investigation going nowhere, Chief Eddings announced his resignation. The fifty-year-old Eddings indicated that his doctor required him to take a long rest. In the same period, Hillsborough County Sheriff Culbreath and State's Attorney J. Rex Farrior were criticized for underworld links and failure to resolve a series of gangland killings.

Lumia was discussed when the U.S. Senate's Kefauver Committee investigated the impact of interstate rackets on Florida. One witness brought before the committee, the ex-wife of Deputy Sheriff DiLorenzo, said her ex-husband appeared to know about the Lumia murder before it occurred. She said Anthony DiLorenzo was familiar with Santo Trafficante and Primo Lazzara and served as a messenger between law enforcement and organized crime. The deputy sheriff indicated beforehand that he had some role to perform in connection with the Lumia murder. He told his wife that he wished he could get out of it, but "he was in it so deep that he couldn't get out." DiLorenzo allegedly told his wife years earlier that Lumia was "getting too big and someone had to stop him."

(*) These Tampa streets, 19th and Harper, no longer intersect.

Sources:
  • Images from June 6, 1950, issue of Tampa Tribune.
  • "Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce," Hearings Before a Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, U.S. Senate, 81st Congress, 2d Session, and 82nd Congress, 1st Session, Part 1-A Florida, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951, p. 39-44.
  • "Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce," Hearings Before a Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, U.S. Senate, 81st Congress, 2d Session, and 82nd Congress, 1st Session, Part 1-A Florida, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951, p. 49.
  • Forsyth, Thomas G. III, "Gabriel Mannarino," FBI report, file no. 92-2914-351, NARA no. 124-10277-10007, June 26, 1969, p. 2.
  • Voege, Robert A., "Sebastian John La Rocca," FBI report, file no. 92-2940-33, NARA no. 124-90104-10151, July 9, 1958, p. 11-12.

  • "Golden wedding today," Tampa Tribune, Aug. 12, 1945, p. 29.
  • "Funeral notices," Tampa Tribune, April 25, 1947, p. 2.
  • "Defendants accuse sheriff of frame-up," Palm Beach FL Post, May 12, 1950, p. 11.
  • "Rodrigez charges 'frameup,'" Tampa Tribune, May 12, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa murder plot suspects charge sheriff with frame-up," Tampa Tribune, May 12, 1950, p. 12.
  • "Tampa gambler murdered," Orlando FL Evening Star, June 5, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Lumia killed; described as gambling boss," Binghamton NY Press, June 5, 1950, p. 14.
  • "Gambler slain in gang-style," Franklin PA News-Herald, June 5, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Funeral notices," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 2.
  • Murray, J.A., "Two men in blue car...," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Warren silent on slaying of Luma; warning recalled," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • Abbott, Bill, "Lumia's slaying 15th spewed on Tampa by flaming gang guns," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "None of 15 gambling slayings here ever solved," Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1950, p. 6.
  • "Fla. gambler is killed by gun blast," Shreveport LA Times, June 6, 1950, p. 15.
  • "Lumia murder may again baffle Tampa police force," Orlando FL Evening Star, June 6, 1950, p. 11.
  • "Tampa gang style killing puzzles police," Fort Lauderdale FL News, June 6, 1950, p. 13.
  • "Slaying of Lumia baffling to police," Tallahassee FL Democrat, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa gaming czar is slain," Palm Beach FL Post, June 6, 1950, p. 1.
  • "Tampa chief of police resigns," New York Times, June 16, 1950, p. 20.
  • "Crime probe of Miami underway," [Salem OR] Daily Capital Journal, Dec. 29, 1950, p. 2.
  • "Text of Rex Farrior's sworn statement to senators is released," Tampa Times, Feb. 22, 1951, p. 1.

28 September 2017

White Sox players indicted for throwing Series

On this date (Sept. 28) in 1920, eight players on the Chicago White Sox baseball team were indicted by a Cook County, Illinois, grand jury for conspiracy to commit an unlawful act. The eight were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series (five games to three) to the Cincinnati Reds in what became known as the Black Sox scandal.

Following the indictments, prosecutors tried to locate former featherweight prizefighter Abe Attel, believed to be the link between the players and a gambling syndicate that made payoffs to players and benefited financially from bets on the longshot Reds. At the time, the New York-based Atell, reputedly an associate of Arnold Rothstein and "Legs" Diamond, threatened to release a damaging story with regard to the fixing of the World Series but denied he had a role in it. A Rothstein representative told the press that Rothstein was approached about entering into a conspiracy but refused to take part.

Chicago Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920

Two of the indicted players confessed to the conspiracy. Pitcher Eddie Cicotte admitted he received $10,000 from the agent of a gambling syndicate for his role in throwing the series. Outfielder "Shoeless Joe" Jackson confessed to investigators that he received $5,000. Jackson said he asked for $20,000 but was paid the lesser amount through pitcher "Lefty" Williams.

The others indicted were:

  • Oscar "Happy" Felsch, centerfielder;
  • Arnold "Chick" Gandil, first baseman;
  • Fred McMullin, utility;
  • Charles "Swede" Risberg, shortstop;
  • Claude "Lefty" Williams, pitcher;
  • George "Buck" Weaver, third baseman.

New York Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920.

Cicotte met with White Sox owner Charles "Commy" Comiskey in the morning before he testified to the grand jury, and confessed to him. "I don't know what you'll think of me, but I got to tell you how I double-crossed you," Cicotte told the team owner. "I did double-cross you. I'm a crook. I got $10,000 for being a crook."

The pitcher reportedly told grand jurors that Risberg, Gandil and McMullin pressured him for a week before the World Series started: "They wanted me to go crooked... I needed the money. I had the wife and the kids. The wife and kids don't know this. I don't know what they'll think. I bought a farm. There was a $4,000 mortgage on it. There isn't any mortgage on it now. I paid it off with the crooked money."

The Sun and NY Herald, Sept. 29, 1920

Late in 1920, baseball team owners decided that a new central authority was needed for the sport. They voted to install federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner of baseball. Negotiations over the authority of the office continued into early 1921. Ultimately, Landis was given complete power over all the participants in the sport's major and minor leagues.

Before the 1921 baseball season began, Landis put the eight accused White Sox players on a list that made them ineligible to participate in professional baseball at any level.

In the summer of 1921, the eight defendants were brought to trial. Signed confessions of Cicotte and Jackson could not be located and the two players recanted. All of the accused players were found not guilty. There was widespread belief that jury acquittal would be followed by reinstatement in baseball.

One day after the August verdict, Landis announced that his decision on the players' ineligibility was final:

Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball 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 planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball... Regardless of the verdict of juries, baseball is entirely competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game.

(When Cicotte attempted to arrange a semi-professional exhibition game in Saginaw, Michigan, a month later, Landis threatened to permanently throw out of baseball any player who participated in the event.)

Eddie Cicotte won 29 games for the White Sox during the 1919 regular season. Though it was thought that his career was over in 1915, he returned stronger than ever in 1916 and was a major factor in the White Sox World Series win over the New York Giants in 1917. Cicotte was known for an unusual delivery that some said made his "shine ball" unhittable.

Joe Jackson, considered one of the finest outfielders ever to play the game, joined the Sox six years earlier after playing six years for Cleveland. He batted .351 in the 1919 season and was a lifetime .356 hitter. Over the course of his big league career, he totaled 1,772 hits and 202 stolen bases.

Buck Weaver entered baseball as a shortstop with the White Sox in 1912. He moved to third in 1917 (when Risberg joined the team) and established a reputation as one of the league's best at the "hot corner." Though Weaver admitted he was aware of the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series and did not report it, he insisted he had no part in it. After batting .296 in the regular season, he turned in a .324 average in the Series against the Reds. Following the decision of Landis, Weaver fought unsuccessfully to win reinstatement to baseball.

Sources:

  • "Two Sox confess," Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1. 
  • "Eight White Sox are indicted; Cicotte and Jackson confess gamblers paid them $15,000," New York Tribune, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Eight White Sox indicted for throwing 1919 series; Cicotte confesses plot," The Sun and the New York Herald, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 1.
  • "The man who rescued baseball," New York Times, Nov. 12, 1920.
  • "Players plan fight," New York Times, Dec. 19, 1920, p. 19.
  • "Majors and minors reach agreement," New York Times, Jan. 13, 1921, p. 1.
  • "White Sox players banned by Landis," New York Times, March 13, 1921, p. 16.
  • "Baseball leaders won't let White Sox return to the game," New York Times, Aug. 4, 1921, p. 1.
  • "Landis warns players," New York Times, Sept. 22, 1921, p. 24.
  • Pomrenke, Jacob, "Closing the door on Black Sox reinstatement," The National Pastime Museum, thenationalpastimemuseum.com, Jan. 4, 2016. (Link)
  • "SportsCenter Flashback: The Chicago Black Sox banned from baseball," ESPN Classic, espn.com, Nov. 19, 2003. (Link)
  • "Buck Weaver," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)
  • "Eddie Cicotte," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)
  • "Shoeless Joe Jackson," Baseball Reference, baseball-reference.com. (Link)


10 June 2017

Youngstown racketeer Farah killed at his home


On this date in 1961: Mike Farah, 56, was practicing his golf swing outside his Warren, Ohio, home, when gunshots from a blue Chevrolet cut him down. 

Mike Farah
Two or three shotgun blasts were fired. Farah's hip was badly damaged and some of the fired shot penetrated the side of his abdomen. His 16-year-old daughter Grace witnessed the shooting. She said the Chevrolet pulled up to the curb, about 30 feet from where her father was standing. Shotguns were fired from the rear seat of the vehicle, and it then sped away around a corner toward Youngstown, Ohio.

Farah dragged himself into the house, and an ambulance was summoned to take him to the nearby hospital. About two hours later, Farah died of internal bleeding.

Police found the blue Chevrolet abandoned just a half mile from Farah's home. They determined that it had been stolen from Canton three months earlier.

Mike Farah was known to authorities as the former part-owner (with his brother John and Tony Delsanter) of the Jungle Inn gambling casino, in Liberty township, just outside of Youngstown. James "Jack White" Licavoli, Cleveland-based Mafia leader, also appeared to hold an interest in the establishment. (Licavoli was known to have partnered with Mike Farah in the Girard Novelty Company in Niles and the Triangle Novelty Company in Warren.) The casino, opened following the repeal of Prohibition, proved itself impervious to law enforcement until the late 1940s, when the Ohio governor sent in agents from the state liquor control board. The Jungle Inn was closed after a raid in 1949.

Authorities in the region believed that Farah continued to be involved in racketeering, though he insisted that he was retired. He was charged with assault with intent to kill following an attack against Trumbull County Republican chairman and Board of Elections member Jean Blair in June 1959. In that case, he was convicted on a lesser charge of assault and battery and was sentenced to four months in county jail, a $200 fine and court costs. He did not begin serving that sentence until his the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

Farah served two and a half months of the sentence before being released on March 31, 1961. Common Pleas Judge G.H. Birrell granted Farah's freedom in consideration of his good behavior while behind bars.

The Jungle Inn
Before "retirement," Farah had been imprisoned on racketeering charges (later pardoned by the governor) and for operating a still.

The Farah murder was counted as the fourth in a series of shootings in Mahoning and Trumbull counties dating back just over a year. The first was Joseph "Sandy" Naples, killed along with his girlfriend on the front porch of her home. Joseph Romano was struck by a shotgun blast but survived. He said he could not identify the shooters. "Big John" Schuller was shotgunned to death while fixing a tire on his car at the side of the highway. Authorities determined that the tire had been rigged to go flat. Additional murders of underworld figures would follow in the very near future.

Rumors indicated that the shootings were part of an effort by Cleveland mobsters to take direct control of gambling operations in the Youngstown area.

Sources:
  • "Motion filed by Mike Farah for new trial," Dover OH Daily Reporter, Jan. 6, 1961, p. 12.
  • "Warren rackets figure released," Salem OH News, April 1, 1961, p. 8.
  • "Around Ohio," Akron OH Beacon Journal, April 1, 1961, p. 19.
  • "Ohio mobster slain in own front yard," Pittsburgh Press, June 11, 1961, p. 7.
  • "Racketeer Farah slain in Warren," Akron OH Beacon Journal, June 10, 1961, p. 1.
  • "Warren racket boss Mike Farah slain by gunmen," Salem OH News, June 10, 1961, p. 1.
  • "Youngstown racketeer fatally shot," Chillicothe OH Gazette, June 10, 1961, p. 1.
  • "Clues sought in murder of rackets boss," Sandusky OH Register, June 12, 1961, p. 7.
  • "Purple gang member quizzed on slayings," Sandusky OH Register, Aug. 1, 1961, p. 1.
Read more about Mike Farah, the Jungle Inn and Youngstown racketeering in DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II - From 1938 by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

06 April 2017

April 6, 1950: Bullets take KC political leader, aide

On this date in 1950, Charles Binaggio and Charles Gargotta were found dead inside the First District Democratic Club headquarters,  716 East Truman Road, on the North Side of Kansas City. They were found, several .38-caliber bullet wounds in their heads, at about four o'clock in the morning.

Binaggio was found dead in his political club office.
Binaggio, 40, was the Democratic Party boss in the North Side, where many Italian-Americans resided and voted. A one-time follower of the late Democratic machine boss Thomas Pendergast and John Lazia, who was murdered in 1934, Binaggio served as a link between Missouri Democratic politicians and the Italian underworld of Kansas City and St. Louis. His command of the North Side vote gave him great political power across the state. He was believed to be a close ally of Kansas City Mafiosi, including James Balestrere.

Binaggio's political faction rivaled and quickly eclipsed the Pendergast machine when, after the death of Tom Pendergast, that organization was controlled by Pendergast's nephew James.

Gargotta, 49, was Binaggio's bodyguard and right-hand-man. The local press noted that Gargotta been arrested forty times in a thirty-year period. Charges of murder, gambling, robbery, extortion, carrying concealed weapons and violating liquor laws were all dismissed. Gargotta was convicted once, on an assault to kill charge stemming from the attempted murder of Sheriff Tom Bash. Gargotta served a 19-month prison sentence for that offense. Gargotta also rose to power under the guidance of Pendergast and Lazia.

Before his murder, Binaggio announced that he would soon be leaving politics. His failed efforts in recent years to win approval for legal gambling in the State of Missouri was a costly disappointment to his underworld associates. Binaggio's political manipulations and criminal connections were constantly in the press during that time, and Binaggio became the target of federal investigations.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 6, 1950.
Binaggio's body was found slumped in a swivel chair behind a desk in the headquarters' outer office. There were powder burns around his wounds, indicating that a pistol had been placed against his head and fired.

Gargotta's body was found on the floor near the door. He had a gunshot wound to the base of his skull, apparently due to a bullet fired from some distance. Three other wounds in the left side of his head were closely grouped and powder burned.

Recommended books on the Kansas City underworld: