Showing posts with label Lupo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lupo. Show all posts

11 June 2017

Vendetta ends life of 'Black Sam' Todaro

Son, wife, nephew of murdered 'Big Joe' Lonardo
participate in the slaying of Cleveland Mafia boss

Salvatore Todaro
On this date in 1929 - Cleveland Mafia boss Salvatore "Black Sam" Todaro was murdered in front of a Porrello corn sugar warehouse at Woodland Avenue and 110th Street. Though recent killings in the region had resulted from underworld rivalries, authorities determined that the assassination of Todaro was an act of personal vengeance.

Todaro took power in the local crime family after the October 1927 murders of boss Joseph "Big Joe" Lonardo and his brother John. His position was secured with the murder of Lonardo loyalist Lorenzo Lupo the following spring. The Lonardo faction, closely aligned with the national Mafia leadership of boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila, was replaced by an administration of Todaro and the Porrello brothers. The new regime was supported by rising New York Mafia boss Giuseppe Masseria. (Masseria had relatives in Cleveland.)

The murdered Lonardos were given a lavish gangland funeral - reports said their caskets were silver. But Lonardo kin almost immediately began experiencing money problems.

Concetta Lonardo and Fannie Lanzone Lonardo both claimed to be the widows of Joseph Lonardo. Though never formally married, Concetta had lived with Lonardo for many years until their 1925 separation and she was mother to their five children. Fannie was with Lonardo in the last few years of his life and claimed that the two had been married in Sandusky, Ohio on September 8, 1925. A court battle between the widows tied up the family fortune - cash and property estimated to be worth $200,000. Lacking financial resources, Concetta faced the loss of the family home at 13700 Larchmere Boulevard. She reached out for support from the new underworld boss.

Concetta Lonardo
(Cleveland Public Library)
Early in 1929, she began making regular visits to the front of the Porrello corn sugar warehouse - the Mafia leadership's local headquarters. Todaro dutifully stepped out of the building to meet her at her car, a maroon and black Chrysler Model 75 coupe, and provide her with some money. (Cleveland detectives considered the possibility that these were blackmail payments extracted by the Lonardo family under threat of cooperating in the investigation of the Joseph and John Lonardo murders.) Concetta was generally driven to the meetings by her oldest child, eighteen-year-old Angelo.

On the afternoon of June 11, Concetta's twenty-two-year-old nephew Dominic Sospirato came along for the  ride to see Todaro. As usual, Todaro emerged from the warehouse to greet his former boss's widow. As he crossed the sidewalk toward the waiting car, gunshots were heard and "Black Sam" collapsed. He had been shot five times. The Chrysler sped away.

Todaro's brother-in-law, Angelo Sciara, witnessed the shooting and gave authorities the names of the occupants of the car. Concetta was later taken into custody as a material witness, though she claimed to know nothing of the fatal shooting of Todaro. Angelo Lonardo and Dominic Sospirato could not be located. Concetta and the two young men were all indicted for first-degree murder.

“Black Sam” Todaro's funeral featured an expensive bronze and silver casket and abundant floral tributes, but restrictions on the use of marching bands and the route of the cortege were put in place by local Safety Director Edwin Barry.

On November 12, Concetta went to trial alone for the Todaro murder. The prosecutor argued that she must have known that occupants of her automobile planned to shoot and kill Todaro. The state's case included a jury visit to the Cleveland corner where Todaro was killed. After a deliberation of more than six hours, the jury acquitted her.

Angelo Lonardo in later years.
The not-guilty verdict seems to have encouraged Angelo Lonardo and Dominic Sospirato to come out of hiding and take their own chances with a jury. They surrendered to authorities in February 1930, pleading not guilty to the murder charges against them. They were convicted of second-degree murder on June 11, 1930 (the anniversary of Todaro's killing). They were immediately sentenced by Judge James B. Ruhl to life terms at the Ohio State Penitentiary. A successful legal appeal gave them a second chance, and they were both acquitted at retrial in November 1931.

Authorities briefly considered Lonardo a suspect when Rosario and Raymond Porrello and their bodyguard Dominic Mangino were murdered in February 1932.

Many years later, the seventy-seven-year-old Angelo "Big Ange" Lonardo, by then a former Cleveland Mafia underboss who had become a government informant, testified before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Early in his testimony, he matter-of-factly stated, "...My father was murdered by Salvatore Todaro in 1927. In revenge, my cousin, Dominic Sospirato, and I killed Todaro."

Sources:
  • Gentile, Nick, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1963.
  • Neilsen, Sgt. William T., Criminal Complaint, Cleveland Police, June 11, 1929.
  • Porrello, Rick, The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia: Corn Sugar and Blood, Fort Lee NJ: Barricade, 1995.
  • Reports of the Detective Bureau, Police Department of the City of Cleveland, Oct. 13-16, 1927; June 13, 1929; July 2, 1929.
  • United States Census of 1930.
  • United States Census of 1940.
  • Zicarelli, Det., Information report to Inspector of Detectives Cornelius W. Cody, Oct. 16, 1927, Nov. 16, 1929.
  • "2 brothers murdered in bootleg war," Cleveland Plain Dealer, Oct. 14, 1927.
  • "Hits new lead in murder of two Lonardos," Cleveland Plain Dealer, Oct. 15, 1927.
  • "Police seek gunman in yellow car," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 1, 1928, p. 1.
  • "Seize gunman as suspect in Lupo murder," Cleveland Press, June 1, 1928, p. 1.
  • "Police hunt Lonardo, Jr. as slayer," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 12, 1929.
  • "Lonardo's son indicted for feud killing," Cleveland Press, June 12, 1929.
  • "Bootleggers in Cleveland open warfare," Mansfield OH News-Journal, June 12, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Mrs. Lonardo indicted with son in murder," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 13, 1929.
  • "Detectives see blackmail sign as murder clue," Akron OH Beacon Journal, June 13, 1929, p. 20.
  • "Slain 'baron' given gangster funeral," Cleveland Press, June 15, 1929.
  • "Royal burial," Wilmington OH News-Journal, June 17, 1929, p. 4.
  • "Mrs. Lonardo faces trial for murder," Akron OH Beacon Journal, Nov. 12, 1929, p. 29.
  • "Try woman for gang murder in Cleveland," Zanesville OH Times Recorder, Nov. 13, 1929, p. 3.
  • "Gang murder trial," Zanesville OH Times Recorder, Nov. 14, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Acquit Mrs. Lonardo of Todaro's murder," Mansfield OH News-Journal, Nov. 15, 1929, p. 19.
  • "Fails to get share of Lonardo estate," Akron OH Beacon Journal, Feb. 24, 1930, p. 23.
  • "Cleveland racketeers are under pen life sentence," Chillicothe OH Gazette, June 12, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Cleveland men found guilty," Mansfield OH News-Journal, June 12, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Extermination of gang about complete today," Piqua OH Daily Call, June 12, 1930, p. 1.
  • "United States Courts," Cincinnati Enquirer, July 19, 1930, p. 20.
  • "Marriage here basis of suit," Sandusky OH Register, July 22, 1930, p. 12.
  • Kenen, I.L., "Corn sugar racket has taken seven lives in Cleveland with five marked for death; once mighty Porello clan is tottering," Cincinnati Enquirer, Aug. 4, 1930, p. 13.
  • "Acquitted at retrial," Akron OH Beacon Journal, Nov. 25, 1931, p. 9.
  • "Free two convicts," East Liverpool OH Evening Review, Nov. 25, 1931, p. 11.
  • "Jail Lonardo in probe of feud killings," Cleveland Plain Dealer, Feb. 28, 1932.
  • Koziol, Ronald, "Jailed mob chief agrees to testify in casino trial," Chicago Tribune, Aug. 29, 1985, p. 10.
  • Culnan, Dennis, "Former boss calls Mafia disrespectful," Cincinnati Enquirer, April 16, 1988, p. A4.
Read more about Salvatore "Black Sam" Todaro, Prohibition Era underworld murders and the Mafia organizations of the region in DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume I - to 1937 by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.

14 April 2017

114 years ago: The Barrel Murder

New York Evening World, April 14, 1903.
On this date in 1903 - Agents of the United States Secret Service are called upon to help New York City police identify a corpse found in a barrel at Manhattan's 11th Street and Avenue D. 

The victim.
NY Evening World, April 15, 1903.
The agents recognize the deceased man as the stranger they observed with the Morello Mafia members the previous night. Police arrest known members of Morello's organization, including boss Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio Lupo. They are unable to locate Morello adviser Vito Cascio Ferro. They later learn that Cascio Ferro has fled back to his native Sicily through New Orleans.

The Morello Mob
NY Evening World, April 16, 1903.
The victim is soon identified as Buffalo resident Benedetto Madonia, brother-in-law of Giuseppe DePrima, a Morello gangster recently imprisoned for counterfeiting. Authorities believe the New York City Mafiosi lured Madonia to his death because DePrima was judged a traitor.

Police are able to trace the barrel to a Morello gang hangout. They find that a Mafia suspect known as Petto the Ox is in possession of a pawn ticket for a watch that belonged to the victim. Authorities are certain of the gang's responsibility for Madonia's killing but cannot assemble a convincing case. 

Read more about the Barrel Murder on the American Mafia history website:



26 November 2016

'Wrongly Executed?' book now available

Sing Sing Warden Lewis Lawes had no doubt on the evening of January 5, 1939: He had just presided over the electric-chair-execution of an innocent man. The prison chaplain and many guards also felt that convicted cop-killer Charles Sberna had been sent to his death unjustly.

Lawes made his feelings known in a published book a short time later. Syndicated Broadway columnist Walter Winchell also called attention to the flawed case against Sberna in the summer of 1939 and again early in 1942. According to Winchell, the government knew that District Attorney Thomas Dewey's office had sent an innocent man to the chair and was providing "hush money" payments to Sberna relatives. Since then, opponents of capital punishment have included Sberna's name in collections of those deemed "wrongly executed" and have used the case as a somewhat vague example of the possibility of death penalty error. Still, little is known about Sberna or the circumstances that led him to the electric chair.

The story is a complex and controversial one, involving celebrity attorneys, Mafia bosses, violent political radicals, media giants and ruthless establishment figures, all set in a period in which Americans sought stability and government-imposed order after years of political upheaval, economic depression and Prohibition Era lawlessness.

Dust jacket for 'Wrongly Executed?' hardcover

I first became aware of Charles Sberna's story during research into U.S. capital punishment errors. Archived newspaper columns by Winchell revealed a tale worthy of retelling. Sberna and Gati both were convicted and executed for the 1937 murder of Patrolman John H.A. Wilson. Gati admitted his role but insisted that Sberna was not present for the crime. Names of other possible Gati accomplices were revealed, but prosecutors made little effort to check into them.

Email conversations with publisher Rick Mattix relating to the startup of the On the Spot Journal of "gangster era" crime history led me to assemble an article on the Sberna case for the journal's December 2006 issue.

That first article noted the relation by marriage of Charles Sberna and the Morello-Lupo-Terranova clan, which had been a major influence in early New York organized crime. Sberna took as his bride Carmela Morello, daughter of former Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello and niece of New York City rackets leaders Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo and Ciro "Artichoke King" Terranova.

Sberna's own family background remained a mystery until later research into Amedeo Polignani of the NYPD shed light on the involvement by Charles Sberna's father Giuseppe in the anarchist-terrorist bombings of the 1910s. Giuseppe Sberna was a vocal leader in the East Harlem-based Bresci Circle, the nation's largest anarchist organization. Local, state and federal authorities hunted Giuseppe Sberna, but he escaped to his native Italy, leaving his wife and children behind in New York. Learning this, I began to wonder whether Charles Sberna, so closely connected to so many fearsome public enemies, possibly could have received a fair trial. My decision to fully explore the Sberna case soon followed.

Accused cop-killers Charles Sberna (left)
and Salvatore Gati (right) in court.

I examined court documents, the careers of prosecutors and elected officials, the history of law enforcement efforts against the early Mafia and the American anarchist movement, the questionable philosophies and courtroom tactics of D.A. Thomas Dewey and his assistants, and the known and suspected crimes of the men who might have committed the murder attributed to Sberna. Much of what I found was deeply troubling.

A fair trial may have been denied to Charles Sberna. Given the mood of the time, the background of the defendant and the circumstances of the case, a truly fair trial may have been impossible.

Wrongly Executed? - The Long-Forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution is now available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats. For more information and purchase options, visit the Wrongly Executed? website.

(I wish to express my appreciation to Christian Cipollini, C. Joseph Greaves, Ellen Poulsen and Robert Sberna for their support and assistance on this project.)

29 October 2016

On this date in 1921: President commutes Lupo sentence

On this date in 1921 - President Warren Harding granted paroled counterfeiter Ignazio Lupo a conditional commutation of a thirty-year sentence imposed in 1910. 

Ignazio Lupo
This turned out to be a significant moment in U.S. Mafia history, so let's take a closer look at what went on. Though Lupo was already out of prison (paroled on June 30, 1920), the Oct. 29, 1921, commutation lifted parole restrictions and allowed Lupo to leave the U.S. legally and return. Harding's decision followed months of pressure by Lupo and his allies.

In September of 1920, U.S. Pardon Attorney James A. Finch received requests to process an application for clemency that had been filed when Lupo was still an inmate at Atlanta Federal Prison. Finch's office found the requests improper, as Lupo was essentially a free man at that moment. The clemency application had become void upon Lupo's parole. In December, Lupo filed a new application for executive clemency, noting that other men imprisoned at the same time as Lupo and for the same offense were out of prison and unimpeded by parole restrictions at that time. The application went unnoticed.

Lupo made appeals to U.S. Senator William M. Calder, a resident of Brooklyn. In June of 1921, Calder wrote to Pardon Attorney Finch, saying that Lupo recently had received a telegram from Italy reporting his father's death. (Lupo's father appears to have died about 1916.) Calder argued that it was necessary for Lupo to return to Sicily to settled the family estate. Finch and acting Superintendent of Prisons Sewall Key reviewed the situation and found there was nothing they could do for Lupo. They reported back to Senator Calder in July, suggesting that only a Presidential pardon could lift the parole restrictions. A clemency petition bearing 60 signatures was submitted to Senator William M. Calder in August. Calder then received clemency requests in letters from Lupo and others, including a former assistant U.S. attorney and the editor of the Italian-language newspaper Il Giornale Italiano.

Early in October, Lupo parole officer Louis Miller of Brooklyn approached President Harding with a formal request for a temporary conditional pardon of six months. According to Miller, Lupo needed to travel to settle his father's estate.

Lupo elected not to reveal that he wished to travel abroad in order to escape a death sentence imposed by American Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila. Following the prison releases of Lupo and his brother-in-law Giuseppe Morello, D'Aquila apparently felt that his position was threatened. Morello was the previous boss of bosses and had been D'Aquila's underworld commander until heading to prison for counterfeiting. At a Mafia meeting in the summer of 1920, D'Aquila trumped up a conflict with Morello and his loyalists and condemned Morello, Lupo and ten other Mafiosi to death. Most of the targeted men traveled to Sicily in quest of a safe haven and some underworld support.

Miller managed to interest Harding in the case, and the President asked Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty to weigh in on the matter. On October 10, Daugherty responded that there was no precedent for a limited-time pardon. "Further," wrote the attorney general, "I am not entirely satisfied that [Lupo] goes to Europe for the purpose stated." Assistant Attorney General John W.H. Crim wrote to Harding with a similar opinion but suggested that the President could commute Lupo's sentence to expire fully, effectively causing parole also to expire, and that place "conditions subsequent" to the commutation.

The commutation issued by President Harding on October 29, 1921, was specifically conditional on Lupo remaining law-abiding, "of which fact the President himself shall be the sole judge."

The short-term impact of Harding's decision was to allow Lupo to escape D'Aquila's wrath in November 1921. While he was away, a new rival, Giuseppe Masseria, emerged to challenge the boss of bosses. By the time of Lupo's return on May 13, 1922, D'Aquila and Masseria were at war for control of the Mafia in New York. Masseria emerged victorious, and figures from the Morello faction became his trusted advisers.

The long-term impact of the decision was not as favorable for Lupo. In July of 1936, then-President Franklin Roosevelt determined that the 59-year-old Lupo had not lived up to the conditions imposed by Harding (Lupo had been arrested in connection with murder investigations, extortion and labor racketeering). Roosevelt ordered that Lupo's original counterfeiting sentence be restored and that Lupo be arrested and returned to Atlanta Federal Prison to serve the remaining 7,174 days (more than 19 and a half years) of that sentence. He remained in prison for about ten years. A generous "good time allowance" permitted the release of the ailing and senile Lupo just in time for Christmas 1946. Lupo died in mid-January, 1947.

Sources:

  •   Ciro Terranova passport application, submitted Oct. 14, 1921, approved Oct. 17, 1921.
  •   Flynn, William, Daily Report, Feb. 19, 1910, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Vol. 29, National Archives.
  •   Gentile, Nick, with Felice Chilante, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Crescenzi Allendorf, 1993, p. 71-72, 75, 86.
  •   Ignatio Lupo, appellant, v. Fred Zerbst, appellee, United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, No. 8471, Oct. 19, 1937.
  •   Ignazio Lupo Prison File, #2883, Atlanta Federal Prison, National Archives and Records Administration.
  •   New York City Death Index, certificate no. 524, Jan. 13, 1947. 
  •   Passenger manifest, S.S. Dante Alighieri, sailed from Naples on April 30, 1922, arrived in New York City on May 13, 1922.
  •   Passenger manifest of S.S. Presidente Wilson, arrived New York on Jan. 18, 1922.
  •   Santo Calamia, application for passport, 73710, New Orleans, LA, Aug. 5, 1921.
  •   "150 years in all for the Lupo gang," New York Times, Feb. 20, 1910, p. 1.
  •   "30 years for 'Wolf,'" Washington Post, Feb. 20, 1910, p. 1.
  •   "Bread racket violence traps Lupo 'the Wolf' at baker's door," New York Herald, July 17, 1935.
  •   "Contractor slain by Bath Beach gang," New York Times, Oct. 9, 1930, p. 29.
  •   "Gangland adds 2 more murders to its Brooklyn list," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 9, 1930, p. 23.
  •   "Girl, woman, 4 men shot in battle of two bootleg bands," New York Times, May 9, 1922, p. 1.
  •   "Gunmen kill cousin of 'Lupo the Wolf,'" New York Times, May 9, 1922, p. 3.
  •   "Law's limit given," Washington D.C. Evening Star, Feb. 20, 1910, p. 5.
  •   "Long jail terms," New York Tribune, Feb. 20, 1910, p. 1.
  •   "Lupo freed from Ellis Island," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 13, 1922, p. 2
  •   "Mulrooney orders harder crime fight by police officials," New York Times, Aug. 29, 1931, p. 1.
  •   "Only two crimes reported in 24 hours as police seize 84 suspects in city round-up," New York Times, Aug. 28, 1931, p. 1.
  •   "Police round up eight," New York Times, Dec. 3, 1923, p. 19
  •   "Prison shuts again on Lupo the Wolf," New York Times, July 16, 1936, p. 1.
  •   "U.S. bars 'Lupo the Wolf,'" Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 14, 1922, p. 6.
  •   "'Lupo the Wolf' notorious criminal, freed by Washington from Ellis Island," New York Times, June 13, 1922, p. 1.

- Thomas Hunt