Showing posts with label January 12. Show all posts
Showing posts with label January 12. Show all posts

11 January 2020

Mysterious St. Louis mob figure brutally murdered in Detroit

One hundred years ago tonight, a mysterious St. Louis underworld figure was found brutalized and near-death just outside of the southwestern edge of Detroit. The man was able to speak briefly with police and claimed that his name was Angelo Russo and that he had recently come to the Motor City. A century later, the man's true identity and the reasons for his violent death are uncertain. The following is an excerpt from my 2019 book Vìnnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia.


Sometime around 1:30 on the morning of January 12, 1920, an anonymous Detroit police patrolman was walking his beat along Michigan Avenue just west of downtown. On this cold winter’s night, the streets were nearly empty, so the officer’s duty mostly consisted of staying warm and keeping his eyes and ears open. The officer noticed a westbound sedan headed towards him and in the direction of the Southwest Side. The vehicle caught his attention because of a burnt out headlight and the loud bursts of singing emanating from its interior. The words were in Sicilian, which the officer did not understand, but he thought it sounded nice as he idly watched the car pass by and disappear down the avenue. It was only later that this officer learned that the loud singing he had heard in the car was drowning out the strained sounds of a man being murdered within. 

Almost an hour later, John Stricki (or Striettzki) and his wife were awakened inside their home on Southern Avenue by a loud banging on their front door. As Stricki listened in, a Sicilian man pled in broken English for him to open the door. When Stricki refused, the caller swayed to the right (knocking over an oil lamp as he did so) and broke one of the front windows. The noise fully roused Stricki’s wife and five children, but a look through the broken window showed that the caller was no threat. The man was covered in blood and now lying on the front lawn, moaning in pain. As his ill wife cared for the wounded man, Stricki left to summon the police.

At Receiving Hospital, doctors took stock of the victim’s gruesome condition. Defensive wounds on the arms and wrists indicted that the dying man had fought fiercely for his life, and had received over forty stab wounds all over his torso in the process. During this frenzied attack, the victim had also been beaten about the head with a hammer hard enough to fracture his skull. The man had then been shot in the abdomen, neck, and a third time straight through his mouth. As if all that wasn’t enough, the victim was found to have an older, partially healed bullet wound in his back. Despite his tremendous injuries, the still-unidentified victim was not only still alive but willing to talk. Black Hand Squad head Inspector William Good and Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Speed quickly got to his bedside to take a statement.

Although his mouth wound made speech difficult, the wounded man managed to say that his name was Angelo Russo, that he was thirty-two years old, and had recently arrived in town from St. Louis. Russo said he was currently rooming at 51 Trumbull Avenue. The wounded man claimed he had been shot in the back by three men in front of 460 E. Fort Street on New Year’s Eve night. The wound was minor enough for him to leave the hospital just a few hours after it was inflicted.

Earlier on this particular evening, Russo was at Salvatore Randazzo’s poolroom at 152 St. Aubin Street in the company of five men, all of whom he apparently named to Inspector Good and Prosecutor Speed. They eventually left in a sedan with a burnt-out headlight to grab a bite to eat at an all-night restaurant downtown. The party then headed west on Michigan Avenue; it was at this point that the horrific attack began. Russo was dumped out of the car on Southern Avenue between Cabot and Miller roads; about 180 feet outside of what were then Detroit’s southwestern city limits. Somehow able to keep his feet despite his wounds, the bloodied Russo staggered over a block away until he stumbled up to John Stricki’s front door. Roughly two hours after giving this statement to police, the victim died from his injuries. 

Santo Pirrone was questioned in the murder of Angelo Russo.
Acting on information gleaned from the dying man, police arrested twenty-five year old mafiùsu Santo Pirrone at his home at 779 McDougall Avenue.  Also taken into custody was a young woman that Pirrone identified as his wife. Russo’s statement was bolstered by the recovery of Pirrone’s blood-stained automobile on West Jefferson Avenue around the same time. A key member of Peter Mirabile’s Alcamesi dicìna, Pirrone was noted as a longtime friend (and eventual brother-in-law) of Salvatore Catalanotti, who had taken on a much bigger role in the affairs of the burgàta upon the ascension of John Vitale to càpu. Pirrone admitted being with the victim on the night of the murder and even conceded to driving him to the Southwest Side, but only to drop off his “wife” at the home of her father on Cabot Road, not far where Russo was dumped from the car. Pirrone claimed to have absolutely no idea that the brutal attack was taking place right behind him in the back seat.

Despite his implausible claims and the fact that he admitted driving the murder vehicle, Santo Pirrone managed to beat the rap. Angelo Russo’s body lay unclaimed for nearly two weeks until it was interred in a pauper’s grave at Woodmere Cemetery at city government expense. The ferocity of the attack earned Pirrone the underworld nickname of U Bistìnu (The Shark). Just who Russo really was, as well as what he was doing in Detroit and why he would be killed in such a grisly manner are questions that have never been satisfactorily answered. It is possible that new càpu Vitale, hypervigilant against threats, came to believe that Russo was a hired gunman brought in from St. Louis to kill him. Whether this was true or not, it is a likely motive behind the killing.

Postscript

The author was unable to find any solid record in St. Louis or elsewhere of Angelo Russo and has doubts that this was the man's true name. Just who he was and why he was killed are mysteries that may never be solved.

Angelo Russo's death certificate

Santo Pirrone eventually anglicized his name to Sam Perrone and made a fortune in the bootlegging business while a member of the Detroit Mafia. In later years, Perrone would move into the scrap business and become a noted union buster. Perrone was later charged with leading an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate UAW President Walter Reuther in the spring of 1948. By the early 1960s, Sam Perrone had begun feuding with mobster Anthony "Tony Jack" Giacalone, who got permission from the family's bosses to kill his rival. Perrone survived a subsequent car bombing, though he lost his left leg to the blast. After this incident, the contract on Perrone's life was cancelled with his retirement. Perrone died of natural causes on Christmas Day, 1973, his seventy-eighth birthday.

Sources

Waugh, Daniel. Vìnnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia. Lulu Publication Services, 2019.

Detroit Free Press, January 12, 1920.

Detroit News, January 12, 1920.

Michigan Department of Heath, Certificate of Death, No. 1126, 1920.

Sam Perrone article on gangsterreport.com

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-7 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: