Showing posts with label Mafia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mafia. Show all posts

20 April 2017

The murder of New Orleans boss Joseph Agnello

On this date in 1872, New Orleans Mafia leader Joseph Agnello was shot to death during a gunfight at the Picayune Tier.

New Orleans Daily Picayune
April 21, 1872
Successor to the leadership of his brother Raffaele's underworld organization, Joseph Agnello was seriously wounded in several attacks in 1870-72, but managed to recover each time. Agnello was expected to die after a shooting at Poydras Street and Dryades in September of 1871, but he shocked physicians with his quick rebound. He finally met his end after at least two gunmen (and as many as four) from a rival underworld faction cornered him at the dock at six o'clock in the morning, Saturday, April 20, 1872.

After briefly exchanging fire with his attackers, the thirty-nine-year-old Agnello tried to escape by jumping aboard the moored schooner Mischief. He was struck by shotgun blasts as he went over the rail of the schooner and fell onto the deck.

New Orleans Republican
April 21, 1872
Agnello regained his footing momentarily, only to be struck in the midsection by a large-caliber horse-pistol slug fired by Joseph Maressa (reportedly also known as Vincent Orsica). The slug passed through his body from right to left, ripping through his heart and leaving a gaping exit wound.

Two bystanders were injured by flying lead. Customhouse official Joseph Soude was struck in the back by shotgun shot and died of his wounds as he was helped to his home. A youngster named Edward Nixon was wounded in the leg.

Police arrested Maressa and Joseph Florda (also known as Ignazio Renatz) for the killing. Florda had previously been arrested for counterfeiting. The accused were held at the Third Precinct's Jackson Square police station, where they argued that they shot Agnello in self-defense. Authorities recovered an Enfield rifle, two double-barreled shotguns and a horse pistol from the area of the shooting. One of the shotguns was found fully loaded (this belonged to Florda, who raised it to fire but noticed a police officer nearby and decided to drop it instead).

The death of Agnello marked the end of a Mafia war in New Orleans that started in 1868. Mafiosi originating in Palermo, Sicily, were briefly eclipsed in the Crescent City by underworld factions transplanted from Trapani and Messina and by the Stuppagghieri organization based in Monreale.

Sources:
  • "Murder in the Second District," New Orleans Crescent, April 2, 1869, p. 1.
  • "La Vendetta: shooting affray on Poydras Street," New Orleans Times-Democrat, Sept. 13, 1871, p. 6.
  • "The city," New Orleans Daily Picayune, Sept. 13, 1871, p. 2.
  • "Another Sicilian vendetta," New Orleans Times-Democrat, April 21, 1872, p. 3.
  • "The Sicilian feud again," New Orleans Republican, April 21, 1872, p. 5.
  • "The vendetta," New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 21, 1872, p. 3.
  • "The Italian war," New Orleans Republican, April 23, 1872, p. 5.
  • "The Sicilian vendetta," Nashville TN Union and American, April 30, 1872, p. 3 [reprinted articles from the New Orleans Picayune and New Orleans Times-Democrat of April 21].
  • "Vicentio Ossica...," New Orleans Republican, June 4, 1872, p. 5.
Learn more about the early New Orleans Mafia:

Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca
and the Birth of the American Mafia
by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon

19 April 2017

66 years ago: Mangano murder

On the morning of April 19, 1951, Mrs. Mary Gooch of 7501 Avenue X in Brooklyn, was walking through the tall grass of a marshy area in her Bergen Beach neighborhood when she discovered a man's dead body. 

Brooklyn Eagle, April 20, 1951.
For Mrs. Gooch the discovery may not have been quite as startling as it would have been for others. It was said that two years earlier, she stumbled across another dead body in the same location - south of Avenue Y near the foot of East 72nd Street. Mrs. Gooch summoned the police.

The partly dressed corpse was lying face-down in the dirt. It was wearing no pants, shoes or coat but had on a white shirt, white shorts and undershirt, black socks, black tie and gold tie clip. The tie clip was still fastened neatly in place.

Police noted three close-range bullet wounds to the man's head - one at the top rear of the neck, one in the right cheek and one in the left cheek. Time of death was estimated at 10 to 20 hours earlier. There were no identifying papers on the body. Through an examination of fingerprint records, police identified the victim as Philip Mangano, 50.

A resident of 1126 84th Street in Brooklyn, Philip Mangano was known to be a waterfront racketeer and political manipulator; a top aide to his brother, Brooklyn-based Mafia boss Vincent Mangano (some sources indicate that Philip was his brother's underboss); and an associate of Mafia leader Joe Adonis. There was a short police file on Philip Mangano. He was arrested twice, once in 1923 for homicide, but never convicted.

Finding no dirt on the bottoms of Philip's socks, detectives concluded that he was murdered at another location and carried to the Bergen Beach marsh for disposal. They surmised that a ten-foot length of rope found near the body was used in its transport.

Philip's wife Agatha, 46, told police that she last saw her husband at a Brooklyn accountant's office on the morning of April 17.

Authorities were unable to locate Vincent Mangano. Investigators of the Kefauver Committee had been having the same trouble for several months. (Though initially believed to be in hiding, Vincent Mangano was eventually presumed dead. He was ruled dead by a Brooklyn court in October 1961. His remains were never found.)

The Kings County District Attorney's Office interviewed seventy-five people, including Mafia big shots like Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis - over the course of the next two days, but learned nothing of value to the murder investigation. Adonis reportedly suggested that Philip Mangano was killed because of an affair with a woman. No evidence could be found to support that theory. And prosecutors also dismissed reports that Philip Mangano had been targeted for mob discipline after secretly meeting with federal investigators.

Philip's 22-year-old son told prosecutors that he believed Philip was killed because he was trying to pull away from the Mafia. He said his father had made two recent trips to Virginia to purchase a construction firm.

Philip was buried quietly on April 23, 1951, at Holy Cross Cemetery. His hearse left the Boyertown Chapel, 38 Lafayette Avenue, a half-hour before its scheduled time in order to avoid reporters. There were no church services. Three empty limousines were sent from the chapel to pick up family members at other locations.

Years later, Albert Anastasia was revealed to be the killer of both Philip and Vincent Mangano. Anastasia seized control of the former Mangano Crime Family and remained its boss until his own bloody end in 1957.

Sources:
  • Bonanno, Joseph, with Sergio Lalli, A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983, p. 170-171.
  • Gale, J.H., "Criminal Intelligence Digest," FBI memorandum, file no. 92-6054-955, NARA no. 124-10223-10411, Feb. 11, 1965, p. 3.
  • SAC New York, "La Cosa Nostra," FBI memorandum, file no. 92-6054-669, NARA no. 124-10287-10234, July 2, 1964.
  • "Mafia purge seen as probe figure is taken for ride," Brooklyn Eagle, April 20, 1951, p. 1.
  • "Aide of Joe Adonis is found shot dead," New York Times, April 20, 1951, p. 18.
  • "Raiders seized coat in inspector's home," Brooklyn Eagle, April 22, 1951, p. 3.
  • "No clue in Mangano case," New York Times, April 22, 1951, p. 66.
  • "Mangano burial hour shifted to forestall public," Brooklyn Eagle, April 23, 1951, p. 9.
  • "Adonis, Anastasia queried in murder," New York Times, April 28, 1951, p. 21.
  • "Seek 'passion crime' in Mangano killing," Brooklyn Eagle, April 29, 1951, p. 2.
  • "Mangano killing motive," New York Times, April 29, 1951, p. 60.
  • Reid, Ed, "Mafia leader Mangano's killer known," Brooklyn Eagle, June 26, 1951, p. 1.
  • Gage, Nicholas, "Carlo Gambino, a Mafia leader, dies in his Long Island home at 74," New York Times, Oct. 16, 1976, p. 28.


DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. 2
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:



01 April 2017

148 years ago: New Orleans boss murdered

On this date in 1869, New Orleans Mafia boss Raffaele Agnello is shot to death during an underworld feud. 
New Orleans Crescent, April 2, 1869.

Agnello, accompanied by his godson and bodyguard Frank Sacarro, was on a walk around the French Quarter when a noise from Old Levee Street behind him caught his attention. When he turned back to resume his walk, a bareheaded man in a long frock coat stepped forward and pointed a brass-mounted blunderbuss pistol at the boss's head.

The pistol fired, launching chunks of metal into Agnello's skull and killing him instantly. Some of the blunderbuss's projectiles missed the mark and cracked through the windows and walls of the Joseph Macheca produce store and the Norman & Reiss bakery on Toulouse Street. Sacarro's left index finger was wounded when he thrust out his left hand toward the weapon as it fired.

The gunman in the frock coat fled through the bakery pursued by Sacarro, who drew a pistol and managed to wound him with a shot. The gunman, leaving behind a trail of blood, escaped through a rear exit. Frank Philips, a baker working at Norman & Reiss, was wounded in the right leg by some flying lead.

In the summer, authorities arrested Joseph Florada (who may also have been known as Gaetano Arditto) as a suspect in the Agnello killing. Sacarro would not identify the Florada as the man he saw shoot his godfather, and the suspect was set free.

Agnello had been leader of a Mafia organization comprised of Palermitani. His enemies, an alliance largely made up of Messinesi and Trapanesi, had a momentary advantage in an underworld struggle that had already lasted several months, since the killing of Litero Barba, reputed leader of a Messinian gang. The war was not yet over, however. Raffaele Agnello's brother Joseph stepped up to the leadership of the Palermitani and continued the fight until his own murder in 1872.


For more about this subject:

12 March 2017

108 years ago: Petrosino is slain

On this date in 1909, Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino is assassinated while on assignment for the New York Police Department in Palermo, Sicily. He is the only NYPD officer to be killed in the line of duty while on foreign soil.



Though he was traveling under an assumed identity, New York newspapers and the Sicilian-Italian underworld learned of his trip across the Atlantic before he reached Europe. For years, Petrosino had hounded organized criminals in New York's Little Italy neighborhoods. Many were imprisoned or deported due to his efforts. A network of Mafiosi, apparently linked with the Morello Crime Family of New York, is believed to have arranged the shooting death of Petrosino at Palermo's Piazza Marina on the evening of March 12. Police officials in Italy were certain of the identities of the plotters and participants in the assassination, but none were successfully prosecuted.

Officially, Petrosino's mission was to gather Italian criminal records of outlaws who had made their way to New York. The records would allow recently arrived outlaws to be deported from the U.S. Petrosino's actions suggested that he also intended to establish NYPD informants within the criminal societies of southern Italy and Sicily. The first leader of the NYPD Italian Squad (which also spawned the NYPD Bomb Squad), Petrosino had recently been named to command a privately financed, undercover service within the police department. The transatlantic trip, which took him from his wife and young daughter, was his first major task in that new role.

Known for employing tenacity and toughness in numerous successful battles with lawbreakers and underworld organizations, Petrosino became a hero, as well as an important role model, for the quickly growing Italian-American community.

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.


22 February 2017

Nicola Gentile - Meet the Mafia's Most Elusive Yet Revealing Historical Figure


Nicola Gentile
Nicola Gentile
aka Nick Gentile, Zu Cola
Code Name: Joe Mollica

Birth: 12 June 1885
Death: see endnotes









Significance:
  • Mafia mediator
  • International drug trafficker
  • Escaped mob-issued death sentence... twice!
  • Published memoirs which exposed the inner working of the Mafia, and, provided perhaps the most important and intriguing first-hand account of the American mob's evolution - particularly the who, what, when, and how of the so-called Castellammarese War.
The Parrot Murder Case

Mary Siragusa had an unusually bad feeling as she prepared for church. "Maybe I shouldn't go," she told husband Joe.  "Nothing will happen to me, you go ahead," Joe insisted. Reluctantly, and with a foul premonition lingering, Mary headed to St. Philomena's on nearby Forward Avenue.  There she prayed the entire time that husband Joe and their seven year old daughter Catherine were in no danger.

Just before noon, Joe ventured to the basement apartment and prepared for a shave. Up several floors, Catherine still in slumber.  As Joe put the finishing swath of cream on his cheeks, something or someone was approaching. He turned face to face with several armed men. Joe knew what was going down and tried desperately to escape up the staircase. He made it up three steps before copper jacket .38 slugs pummeled his torso. Grasping the railing, Joe turned his head ever so slightly to capture one more look at his assassins. His lathered face shattered by a .32 round.  Catherine, unharmed, never heard a sound. Mary... she knew what she'd find upon returning.

"Poor Joe, Poor Joe!" shrieked one of Giuseppe Siragusa's pet birds. Nonstop the parrot repeated the phrase while Pittsburgh detectives sifted through the bloody scene at 2523 Beechwood Boulevard on the morning of September 13, 1931.  A dozen rounds had been fired.  Five hit the target.  Four .38 in Siragusa's body; one .32 in the face.  Dangling on the wall above his lifeless body, rosary beads and broken picture frames.

You Don't Know Nick!

Now, you might ask, what the hell does that story have to do with Nicola Gentile?!  We'll be getting to that soon.  First, who is Nick?!

Much of Gentile's history has been elusive, to say the least.  One of the factors behind the many question marks was Gentile's own ability to remain transient.  Use of aliases, residing for short stints in various cities, and remaining fairly under the law's radar helped Gentile become more like a phantom of mob history, especially in terms of the public recognition.  The government however, or a few entities within it, were aware of Gentile, though perhaps not the extent of his business and alliances within the network of national organized crime.   That would all change by 1937, when the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (predecessor to the DEA) netted the mob's 'elder statesman' in a large scale drug bust. Of the eighty-eight (this figure varies from source to source) individuals law enforcement figured involved in the widespread drug ring - Gentile turned out to be the missing link, or so they thought.  That was just the start of a bizarre, stealthy and historically-hazy relationship between the Gentile, the governments of two nations, and more than few famous underworld associates from the good old days.
1937 Drug bust in New Orleans. L to R: Nicola Gentile, Jerry Feraci, Thomas Siracusa, Onofia Pecararo


Background Info:

Since Gentile's name doesn't generally ring of familiarity in pop culture, and obviously his story has proved a bit mysterious even for hardcore mob history aficionados, here's the brief lowdown (For further reading, there exist some succinct bio's, backstory and timeline's reflecting what was taking place in the underworld and Gentile's rise and role within significant moments.):


1907 'Zu Cola' in Montreal Notary Records
Gentile, born in Siculiana Sicily, quickly immersed himself and gained influence within Mafia factions upon arrival in the United States (approximately 1903). His official initiation into the Mafia occurred in 1905 (Philadelphia), and from then on maintained strong underworld ties both in the States and in Italy (he traveled back and forth periodically between the countries).  Gentile resided and worked in numerous cities, including Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Montreal, as far as San Francisco, and served in positions that included advisor, negotiator and/or Capo.


Gentile arrest Pittsburgh PA
1921 Ship Manifest
"You have to be strong, courageous, cruel to live in that country." - Nicola Gentile, discussing life in the United States, September 19, 1963.
By 1931, Gentile counted among his friends many of the soon-to-be mob all-stars.  This crop of enterprising criminals - which included a who's-who of gangland infamy, Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, Tommy Lucchese, Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, etc., among their ranks - were launching a two-phase coup de tat on warring bosses - Giuseppe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, aka the Castellammarese War.  Also that same year, Gentile, who was married with six children, made an attempt to become a naturalized citizen. That effort didn't go quite as planned, which we'll get to shortly. Back to the 'purge' of battling bosses...
1931 Nicola Gentile Declaration of Intention

The murder of Giuseppe 'Joe the Boss' Masseria in April 1931 ended the so-called 'war' and opened the door to underworld supremacy for Salvatore Maranzano.  It is believed that shortly before or during Maranzano's coronation that Pittsburgh boss, Giuseppe "Yeast Baron" Siragusa,  attempted to have Gentile put in very bad graces - the kind that get a mobster killed. However, Nicola Gentile, the proven master negotiator, successfully applied such skills in his own defense to claims made by the Pittsburgh boss. It worked.  In fact, it impressed the hell out of Al Capone, and that in turn saved Gentile's life.  Siragusa's move against Gentile was not to be forgotten.  Being loyal to Maranzano as he reportedly was, Siragusa already earned himself a death sentence, he just didn't know it yet.  Luciano, Vito Genovese, and most of the men who eventually 'sided' with Maranzano... they had quickly realized the new boss wasn't going to last.  Sending a team of Jewish assassins into Maranzano's Manhattan office on September 10th, 1931 sealed the fate of, what some believe, a whole slew of loyalists.  It became known in almost mythical terms as the "Purge" and the more dramatic sounding "Night of the Sicilian Vespers." 

Origins of the Vespers and other revelations

Up until the early 1950's (and that's even pushing it; 1963 was truly the turning point) what the American public knew about the 'Mafia'** and for that matter, organized crime in general, was almost entirely provided by the press and/or whispers, hearsay, a few books (written by former journalists usually). To that point, plenty of law enforcement and government agencies had little clue beyond that as well.  Although there were indeed government agents and entities very familiar with underworld subculture, it took several sensational whistle-blowers, over the course of basically three decades, to truly expose the complex history and reach of the 'Mob.'  There were three primary individuals who 'blew the lid off' mob secrecy: Gentile, Valachi, Bonanno (the latter's memoirs were discovered during a 1979 arrest). Most famously, Joe Valachi, whose televised testimony in 1963 before a Senate committee essentially forced FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Bobby Kennedy did the forcing) to admit their was a 'Mafia.'

Gentile's account served as the most fascinating, if not most revealing look inside the criminal underbelly (albeit a memoir, which by nature is often self-serving) because unlike Valachi (a foot soldier) Gentile was a top guy.  Historical accounts of how and when Gentile's 'memoirs' came to fruition, now that's where history gets dark, elusive and truly makes research daunting. The various written accounts are conflicting, and that's of no surprise when considering the two primary investigative bodies (Anslinger's Bureau of Narcotics and Hoover's Bureau of Investigation) that delved into Gentile's life were almost polar opposites in terms of investigation 'style' and (as this author believes) the two investigative bodies were rarely on the same page, metaphorically and literally speaking.  The FBI Encyclopedia states Robert Kennedy infuriated J. Edgar Hoover (a common occurrence between the two, no doubt) when the former presented FBN files on over seventy mobsters compared to the latter's office dossiers which numbered around thirty.  The point being that the FBI took much credit in the 1960's but the real working knowledge of men like Gentile had been followed closely by the Bureau of Narcotics, and therefore it is more than possible that Nicola Gentile's early memoirs - if actually written as far back as some historians believe - were acquired and translated by FBN agents before the FBI even knew of such memoirs.

"Today, the same as he did yesterday, Nicola Gentile says: 'I am alive because I always acted as an honest man. I always worked for justice. I always respected the law.' In reality what he means is: 'I have always acted as an honest mafia man. I have always worked for mafia justice. I have  always respected the law of the mafia.'" - Felice Chilanti, notes translated by FBI.

Book Report

The official 'published' memoir 'Vita di Capomafia' was released in Italy in 1963 (and was originally going to be titled '40 Years in the Mafia'), and has not been translated from the Italian nor reprinted for retail sale.  Journalist Felice Chianti once said Gentile approached him to take the dictation and write the story, but he declined the initial request until Gentile agreed to allow for annotation.  From September through October 1963, Gentile and Chilanti  also did a series of columns for Rome's Paese Sera newspaper, further divulging the intricacies of mafia life, and more importantly for the Gentile - answering the question of Why he wrote his life story (again, generally self-serving, possibly to improve his reputation), which he said had a lot to do with redemption to the family he shamed. The FBI translated the manuscript and Paese Sera articles in November 1963.  But... the book was not an exact printing of the original memoirs.  Those original notes, though largely similar to the published version, bear a few differences, and were thought to have ended up in the hands of American law enforcement possibly as early as the late 1940's or 1950's.  Nicholas Gage stated in 1971 that the FBI acquired the memoir in 1961 after hearing about its existence from Italian sources. Gage also said the first time the memoirs were mentioned in the United States was in the book 'The Honored Society,' by Norman Lewis in 1964, and further discussed in Hank Messick's book 'Lansky'.
1940 From the Declassified Gentile Files

Nicola Gentile may have actually begun penning his story shortly after he skipped bond and fled to Italy in 1937. Then again, it's also possible he never dictated nor jotted a word until lawmen put him under pressure (some documentation states this occurred in 1958 after a letter to Joe Biondo was intercepted and agents basically caught Gentile in a sting operation).  Treasury Department declassified documents reveal that as early as 1940 (probably earlier than that) an agent of the Bureau of Narcotics - Frank Di Lucia - had made contact with Gentile. The Treasury Department (which oversaw the FBN) wanted Gentile back in the United States, but not to prosecute him.  With regard to the New Orleans drug bust, well, the Feds wanted Texas mobster Sam Maceo and they wanted him bad, and under that pretense they figured Gentile could deliver just the testimony they needed.  From March 1940 through 1942, correspondence was exchanged between the State Department, the FBN, Treasury Department, American diplomats, Italian police, Agent Di Lucia, and Nicola Gentile.  The deal to get Gentile (who was identified as 'Sam Mollica' - which was either a code name or his own chosen alias) into the United States, protect his safety, and get him back into Italy afterwards.  The deal never materialized.  Gentile assured Di Lucia he would do as asked, but the Italian government refused to issue a passport. If the deal had gone through, police in Palermo wanted the U.S. to deposit at least $9000  - just in case something happened to Gentile, and the money would be given to his wife, of course.  After memo upon memo, letter upon letter back and forth between agencies, the final determination stated that bringing Gentile to the United States wasn't worth the trouble, but... they wanted to keep lines of communication open. Although no specific mention of 'memoirs' were mentioned in the correspondence, the government did think Gentile likely had further information to offer, particularly on the traffic of narcotics.  Thereafter, documents make note of Sam Maceo and others indicted in the 1937 narcotics ring, some of whom plead guilty, some dismissed, others became fugitives.***

Keeping tabs on Nick

Between 1942 and 1947 Gentile was thought to have continued working within the Italian Mafia, assisted the controversial 'government/mob alliance' during WWII, and reunited with former American gangsters. The declassified Bureau of Narcotics paper trail picks back up in spring of 1947, showing their interest in two of Gentile's old friends: Giovanni Schillaci (exiled in 1947) and Charlie Lucky Luciano (exiled in 1946).  Italian police kept tabs on Luciano from the moment he arrived til the day he died, and in doing so they discovered what American authorities viewed as sort of gangland reunion.  The correspondence from Questura (Police headquarters) to the American Consulate, December 4, 1947, read:  "Schillaci arrived at Capri on July 3, 1947 together with Salvatore Lucania, the American citizen, Sharon Mildred Block, Saverio Cuccio, also an American citizen, Igea Lissoni and Ida Pogi..."

The letter later states that police lost track of Schillaci and Lucania after the group left Capri in September. Then Lucania was spotted by police in Rome, in November, with Nicola Gentile, whereby they listed the latter's criminal record: "The Questura in Palermo informed this office that Gentile was sentenced in 1900 to five months of prison for deliberate assault (lesione voluntare) that in 1929 he was acquitted by the Accusation Section of the Tribunal of Palermo of the charges of robber, extortion, and homicide, and in 1929 he was sentenced to two years prison and to liberty under surveillance for conspiracy. He obtained release from the above mentioned with decree of October 23, 1946."

Back to the 'Parrot' story, sort of...

Nick Gentile's early memoirs and published memoirs both described the 1931 hit on Maranzano, with a few subtle variations in wording between the two.

Here's how Gentile's original notes described Maranzano's murder and the actions taken immediately afterward:


“They hurried to telephones and informed the boys in various parts of New York advising them that they could start the purging operation. Almost immediately with that word there took place the slaughter of the ‘Sicilian Vespers’. In fact, many of the followers of Maranzano were killed, who were stained with the most atrocious wickedness.
No sooner did the news of the death of Maranzano reach Cleveland that I and Bazzano thought of eliminating Siragusa of Pittsburgh... ”
 
Compared to the 1963 published published version found in 'Vita di Capomafia':
Excerpt from pages of Vita di Capomafia


"They rushed to the phone to inform picciotti (the boys, slang for thugs, mafia friends) in different neighborhoods in New York who could begin the operation of purging.
So it was the massacre of all those followers of Maranzano who had committed the cruelest atrocities.

Once in Cleveland news came of the death of Maranzano,  Bazzano and I think to suppress Siragusa of Pittsburgh."


The published version didn't consistently share the colorful wording of the early translation, but basically the theme and gist of events remained constant.  Also of note, Gentile never explicitly states in the either version that he and Bazzano actually killed Siragusa.  This intentional 'leaving out finer details' is not surprising of course.  Gentile admits he has committed violent acts, confirms the brutality that is innate to mafia life, yet keeps most of the self-incriminating specifics under wraps throughout the memoirs - that is with the exception of when he felt wronged, and he tends to divulge much more detail in such instances.

Both versions of Gentile's life story regard his entrance into narcotics as almost forced. Although he may have taken a hit in the press when authorities labeled him the big shot of the drug ring (he probably wasn't the top individual, though definitely a major figure, and that later government correspondence admits the weakness of the case against him in the first place), his blaming the younger mobsters (Luciano, etc.) for pushing him into the lowly dope business, nearly ousting him from relevance, contradicts his later actions in Italy, which include remaining quite chummy with many of those old pals and associates.

1937 Captured in New Orleans with Gentile. Antoinette Lima & Mrs. A. Scontrino
Now things are about to get full-on bizarre

As for Gentiles life after the book release, stories later circulated that Gentile had been issued a death sentence,  for the second time in his life. This instance was deemed punishment for the published revelations, but the faction tasked with carrying out the assassination simply decided - for whatever reason - not to kill the old man.  Hmmm... but then there's this:

Sometime in the 1960's Soviet spy/KGB agent Leonid Kolosov befriended Gentile and recruited him as an unknowing informant. This particular segment of Gentile's life isn't a secret, nor a new revelation to most historians. However, as disclosed in a 2003 Italian Parliament transcript interview with Kolosov, the former KGB agent's story filled in a few gaps and contradicted original versions thereof. In a nutshell, Kolosov explained he met Gentile through Felice Chilanti (whom he described as 'lonely') and was offered the chance to meet the mafiosi. Now, all the while, according to the spy, Chilanti nor Gentile knew he was KGB, but probably knew he wasn't just a nosy Russian journalist. Kolosov asked his Soviet bosses for permission and they told him 'yes' but the responsibility was all on Kolosov's shoulders.  In the parliament interview Kolosov went on stating that Gentile was killed several years later. Kolosov mentions 1971, but later admits it could've been in the 1960's, and that Gentile's death had nothing to do with him. Pressed for clarity by the parliament, Kolosov said he visited with Gentile on several occasions in Palermo, whereby the Mafia capo revealed information regarding what later became known as the 'Piano Solo Coup Scandal.'  The parliament President reminded Kolosov that scandal occurred in 1964, to which Kolosov admitted his memory of dates could be off, but that in fact Gentile died several years later and that Kolosov's book - 'Farewell, My Dear Colonel' - even featured a photograph of the funeral.   If in fact Kolosov's account of Gentile's death was accurately recalled, then that would make the date of death somewhere between 1966 and 1972, approximately.  However, that he describes Gentile's death with the word 'killed,' and makes a point to clear himself from having had anything to do with it, contradicts previous (and often accepted) accounts of Gentile dying of old age (see below).
"At the end of his days, Gentile was a pitiful figure who only survived through the pasta which his neighbors gave him." - Pino Arlacchi, author of 'Gli uomini del disonore. La mafia siciliana nella vita del grande pentito Antonio Calderone,' 1992.



Treasury Department Bureau of Narcotics File


*Details on Gentile's exact date and circumstances of death are sketchy at best, and information is conflicting.  Nicholas Gage commented in 1971 that, to his knowledge, Gentile was still alive. However, a report allegedly from the FBI, dubbed the 'Dead List,' marks Gentile's death as 1966. Author Helen Womack's 1998 book 'Undercover Lives: Soviet Spies in the Cities of the World' , which covers Leonid Kolosov's association with Gentile, marks Gentile's death - heart attack - in December 1964.

** Gentile stated the commonly-called 'mafia' was actually known as 'L'Onerata Societa'

***The 1937 drug bust was, according to Gentile, a result of Gentile's girlfriend 'Dorothy' tipping authorities off. In his memoirs he strongly suspected she was actually an undercover FBN agent. The bust itself ultimately led authorities to link Louis 'Lepke' Buchalter, Ralph Liguori (already incarcerated with Lucky Luciano on the vice charges in 1936), and other New York gangsters including Charles La Gaipa, Gentile's son-in-law, who at the time had been operating in the Southwest.

Sources:
Ancestry.com
National Archives
Informer Journal
http://people.com/archive/in-the-literary-coup-of-the-year-the-f-b-i-grabs-mafia-leader-joe-bonannos-memoirs-vol-11-no-23/
http://internetmanasaynotocorruption.blogspot.com/2014/08/italy.html
https://www.tni.org/en/paper/rothschilds-mafia-aruba
http://www.thehistoryreader.com/modern-history/lucky-luciano-wwiis-operation-husky/
Dickie, John. Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia. Palgrave Macmillan LTD. 2004. pp 176-189.
Reppetto, Thomas. American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power. Holt. 2005.  pp. 190-192.
Critchley, David. The Origins of Organized Crime in America; The New York City Mafia 1891-1931, Routledge, 2008. pp. 168-173.
Cipollini, Christian. Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend. Strategic Media Books. 2014.
Wife Finds Husband Slain As She Returns Home From Mass. The Pittsburgh Press. 14 September 1931. p. 2.
Gage, Nicholas. New York Times News Service. Nashua Telegraph. April, 21, 1971. p.14.
Gage, Nicholas. Memoirs of a Elder Support Late Valachi's Testimony. The Arizona Republic. April 12, 1971. p. 8.
Newton, Michael. The FBI Encyclopedia. McFarland. 2012. p. 18.
RG 59 ARC Identifier 6100835 Gentile, Nicola