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

04 December 2017

Chased from Boston to Chicago to Pittsburgh

Camorra killers catch up with
their target in the Steel City

1 - Location of the Scalise residence on Sixth Avenue in Pittsburgh.
2 - Frank Yacca is arrested by special officers near the city morgue.
3 - A railroad employee spots a suspicious man at the B&O Railroad yard.
(Map by Thomas Hunt.)

"Get up! We have come to kill you," a man called out.

Peter Scalise was shaken to consciousness. It was about nine o'clock in the evening of December 4, 1904, and Scalise already had been in bed at his sister Louise's Pittsburgh home, 546 Sixth Avenue, for about an hour. The twenty-year-old Sicilian stone carver opened his eyes and found himself surrounded by three Italian men, killers belonging to a criminal society that had followed him through several states.

Pittsburgh Post, Dec. 5, 1904.
This "rude awakening" of Peter Scalise provided the public a rare glimpse of an interstate Neapolitan criminal network operating in the United States.

Scalise let out a scream for help as the intruders pulled out knives and began stabbing and slashing at him through his heavy winter blankets. His sister and a cousin, who were visiting with neighbors, heard the scream and rushed to his aid. They entered the bedroom and grappled with the knife-wielding attackers, suffering blade wounds to their hands and wrists but continuing a determined fight.

Scalise, wounded more than a dozen times (some accounts said eighteen times, while others claimed more than twenty) and losing blood through slashes on his chest, legs and forehead, rose from the bed to engage one of his assailants. Grabbing at the man's knife, Scalise suffered a hand wound that nearly cost him his left thumb.

The would-be killers, perhaps discouraged by their loss of numerical advantage or perhaps concerned that the police would soon appear, withdrew, fled the building and ran off into the chilly night (it was just below freezing). Peter Scalise, wearing only his underclothes, pursued the men toward the Monongahela River along Ross Street. That route caused the men to pass in front of several city buildings, including the jail and the morgue.

Near the corner of Ross and Diamond Streets, Scalise collapsed to the pavement and shouted for police. Two special officers of the police, John J. Dillon and John McDonough, responded by grabbing one of the fleeing men, Frank Yacca, sixteen years old. They immediately brought him to the fallen Scalise, who identified Yacca as one of the three men who tried to kill him. Yacca was dragged off to the police central station, while Scalise was taken for treatment to Homeopathic Hospital on Second Avenue near Smithfield Street. Scalise's wounds were ugly but, likely due to the protection afforded by the thick, dense blanket, they were not life-threatening.

A short time later, Dispatcher Hugh O'Donnell of the Pittsburgh Railways Company, spotted a suspicious person around Try Street near the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad yards. O'Donnell went after the man but lost him in the railyard.

At the hospital, Scalise gave a description of the two assailants still at large. He also provided police with an explanation of the attempt to murder him. Scalise said he committed some offense against an Italian criminal society known as "Camorra." While a resident of Boston, Massachusetts, a death sentence was passed against him.

New York Tribune, Dec. 5, 1904.


Learning of his situation, Scalise traveled west to Chicago. The Camorra discovered his presence in that city and plotted his murder there as well. Apparently benefiting from some inside sources, Scalise was alerted to the threat in time to depart Chicago for Pittsburgh. Fearing for his life, Scalise seldom left his sister's residence. But the Camorra killers eventually followed him to the western Pennsylvania city and all the way into his bedroom.

Believing that Scalise might provide some useful information on the increasingly troublesome Italian underworld societies in the Pittsburgh area, Police Superintendent Alexander Wallace took personal charge of the case.

Scalise's sister and cousin were taken into custody as material witnesses (one early local report suggested that they were arrested as suspects in the stabbing of Peter Scalise). They were locked up in a cell opposite the one occupied by suspect Frank Yacca. Special Officer Peter Angelo, an Italian American, was secretly positioned nearby. According to published accounts, the special officer overheard Yacca making threats against the witnesses. He told them that if they dared to testify against him, his friends in the Camorra would kill them.

Note: The local press provided little in the way of updates to this case - odd, considering the national interest the story generated when first reported. But a Sunday supplement article from a West Coast newspaper months later included the attempted murder of Scalise in a collection of reported "Black Hand" extortion crimes. The article stated that $5,000 had been demanded from Pietro and Luise [sic] Scalise of Pittsburgh.


Sources:
  • Brandenburg, Broughton, "The spread of the Black Hand," Los Angeles Herald, Sunday Supplement, June 25, 1905, p. 1.
  • "Aroused from sleep to be killed," Mount Carmel PA Item, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 3.
  • "Camorra pursued Sicilian," New York Tribune, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Italian was stabbed in fight," Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Incurred enmity of the Camorrata," Elmira NY Gazette and Free Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 8.
  • "Secret agents stab Italian," Pittsburgh Post, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.
  • "Waked him and said: 'Get up we have come to kill you,'" Detroit Free Press, Dec. 5, 1904, p. 1.

14 November 2017

Apalachin party-crashers expose Mafia network


[Following is an excerpt from DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime - Vol. II.]

On November 14, 1957, Sergeant Edgar Croswell of the New York State Police, aided by troopers from the Vestal barracks and agents of the Treasury Department, broke up a convention of American mobsters at the rural Apalachin home of regional crime chieftain Joseph Barbara Sr. Scores of Mafiosi from around the country were rounded up and identified. 

With known criminal figures from every region of the country in attendance, the crashed party at tiny Apalachin triggered years of investigations and compelled reluctant federal law enforcement officials to acknowledge the existence of a highly organized, interstate network of racketeers.

Joe Barbara
Croswell learned a day earlier that Joseph Barbara's son made a number of room reservations at the Parkway Motel on Route 17 in Vestal. Knowing of Barbara's underworld connections, the police sergeant and Trooper Vincent Vasisko investigated. They drove up to the Barbara residence, a large stone house surrounded by fifty-three wooded acres on dead end McFall Road in Apalachin. They noted the license plates of the few cars they saw parked on the grounds. One was registered in New Jersey. The officers went back to the Parkway Motel later in the evening of November 13 and found an Ohio-registered Cadillac. When Croswell learned that several men had checked into one of the rooms reserved by the younger Barbara, he asked motel proprietor Warren Schroeder to have the occupants sign registration cards. The men refused to give their names.

Barbara had a record as a bootlegger, so Croswell contacted the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Unit. Agents of the unit arrived in Vestal on the morning of November 14. The troopers and agents drove over to the Barbara estate. They observed a half dozen, expensive, new cars in a parking lot. Many more vehicles could be seen parked behind the home’s detached garage.

The Barbaras apparently were hosting a large gathering. Croswell called the barracks for additional help and advised Inspector Robert E. Denman of the state police headquarters in Sidney, New York.

With no warrant for Barbara’s home and no official justification for setting foot on his property, the troopers recorded the license plate numbers of visible automobiles and then set up a roadblock on the nearest state road, Old Route 17. They monitored traffic passing through toward McFall Road and stopped every vehicle leaving the area, demanding identification from drivers and their passengers.

Word of the police presence outside the estate reached Barbara’s guests by early afternoon, and dozens of men suddenly poured from the home. Many attempted to leave by automobile but were halted at the law enforcement roadblock.

Elmira NY Star-Gazette, Nov. 15, 1957.

At twenty minutes after one, a car carrying Barbara’s longtime friend Emanuele Zicari and Dominick Alaimo of Pittston, Pennsylvania, was the first to reach the roadblock.

Troopers next stopped a black, 1957 Chrysler Imperial registered to William Medico of Pennsylvania. Inside they found New York-New Jersey Mafia leaders Vito Genovese, Gerardo Catena, Joseph Ida and Dominick Oliveto, along with Rosario “Russell” Bufalino of Pennsylvania. A 1957 Cadillac contained Cleveland Mafia boss John Scalish; John DeMarco of Shaker Heights, Ohio; James LaDuca of Lewiston, New York; and Roy Carlisi of Buffalo. Brooklyn underworld figures Carlo Gambino, Armand Rava and Paul Castellano were stopped in a borrowed car chauffeured by Castellano. In another vehicle police found Pittsburgh Mafiosi Michael Genovese and Gabriel “Kelly” Mannarino, traveling with Pittston, Pennsylvania, gangsters James Osticco and Angelo Sciandra.

Some of Barbara’s guests, either lacking automobiles or deciding that escape by road was impossible, ran off into the hilly woods and open fields surrounding the Barbara estate. Observing that suspicious behavior, police pursued them.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Nov. 16, 1957
Antonino Magaddino, brother of western New York Mafia boss Stefano Magaddino, was apprehended at McFadden Road to the east of the estate. John C. Montana of Buffalo and Brooklyn underworld leaders Joseph Bonanno and John Bonventre were found in a cornfield nearby. When police reached him, Montana was tangled in a barbed wire fence. James Colletti of Pueblo, Colorado, and Simone Scozzari of San Gabriel, California, slid down a brushy hill to the west of Barbara’s home and were gathered up by police on the avenue leading to the Pennsylvania state line. Santo Trafficante, the crime boss of Tampa, Florida, and the representative of a growing number of Mafia investors in Cuban gambling casinos, was extracted from a wooded area near Barbara’s home.

The law enforcement operation in Apalachin ultimately collected almost sixty underworld figures. Two more – Nick Civella and Joseph Filardo of Kansas City – were picked up fifteen miles away at the Binghamton train station as they attempted to arrange transport home. All the captured men were brought to the Vestal barracks to be identified and questioned.

None provided a reasonable explanation for the gathering at the Barbara home; most insisted that they had all coincidentally dropped in to visit their ailing friend Joseph Barbara Sr., who recently had suffered a heart attack. Genovese, Ida, Catena and Oliveto refused to answer any questions. The authorities were convinced that the gathering had been prearranged for a far more sinister purpose. (Some suggested the meeting was held in order to establish a uniform policy with regard to narcotics trafficking. Others felt it was to divide up the rackets of the recently murdered Albert Anastasia or to settle succession issues in his Mafia organization, later known as the Carlo Gambino Family. Still others speculated that the purpose was to endorse the takeover of Lucky Luciano's former crime family by Vito Genovese.) However, with no legal grounds for holding the men, police had to turn them loose.

Further investigation led authorities to assemble a list of more than 70 underworld-connected Apalachin convention attendees from twenty-five U.S. regions:
  • Apalachin, Binghamton, Endicott, New York – Joseph Barbara Sr., Joseph Barbara Jr., Ignatius Cannone, Anthony Guarnieri, Bartolo Guccia, Pasquale Turrigiano, Emanuele Zicari.
  • Auburn, New York – Sam Monachino, Patsy Monachino, Patsy Sciortino.
  • Boston, Massachusetts – Frank Cucchiara.
  • Buffalo, Niagara Falls, New York – Roy Carlisi, Domenick D’Agostino, James V. LaDuca, Sam Lagattuta, Antonino Magaddino, John C. Montana, Charles Montana, Stefano Magaddino.
  • Chicago, Illinois – Salvatore “Sam” Giancana, Anthony Accardo.
  • Cleveland, Ohio – John DeMarco, John Scalish.
  • Dallas, Texas – Joseph Civello.
  • Elizabeth, New Jersey – Joseph Ida, Louis Larasso, Frank Majuri.
  • Essex-Bergen Counties, New Jersey – Salvatore Chiri, Anthony Riela.
  • Kansas City, Missouri – Nick Civella, Joseph Filardo.
  • Los Angeles, California – Frank DeSimone, Simone Scozzari.
  • Miami, Florida – Bartolo Frank Failla.
  • New York, New York (Bonanno) – Joseph Bonanno, John Bonventre, Natale Evola, Carmine Galante.
  • New York, New York (Gambino) – Paul Castellano, Carlo Gambino, Carmine Lombardozzi, Armand Rava, Joseph Riccobono.
  • New York, New York (Genovese) – Gerardo Catena, Vito Genovese, Michele Miranda.
  • New York, New York (Lucchese) – Americo Migliore, Aniello Migliore, John Ormento, Vincent Rao, Joseph Rosato, Peter Valenti.
  • New York, New York (Profaci) – Joseph Magliocco, Joseph Profaci, Salvatore Tornabe.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Dominick Oliveto.
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Michael Genovese, Gabriel Mannarino, John Sebastian LaRocca.
  • Pittston, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania – Dominick Alaimo, Rosario Bufalino, William Medico, James Osticco, Angelo Sciandra.
  • Pueblo, Colorado – James Colletti.
  • Rochester, New York – Frank Valenti, Costenze Valenti.
  • San Francisco, California – Joseph Cerrito, James Lanza.
  • Springfield, Illinois – Frank Zito.
  • Tampa, Florida, and Havana, Cuba – Santo Trafficante, Joseph Silesi.
  • Utica, New York – Joseph Falcone, Salvatore Falcone, Rosario Mancuso.
News of the roundup of national crime figures in tiny Apalachin shook the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C. Despite the earlier discoveries of the Kefauver Committee and other investigators, Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover had insisted that criminal rackets were organized on no more than local or regional levels. The Apalachin incident revealed that known hoodlums from across the country were closely acquainted with each other. Many of the attendees were connected by business and/or family links.

In the wake of Apalachin, the withering attention of media and law enforcement was focused on American Mafiosi from coast to coast. Investigations into the gathering and its attendees were launched by state and federal legislative committees, including the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Government Operations and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field (McClellan Committee), as well as a federal grand jury in Albany and Hoover's greatly embarrassed Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Additional information on the Apalachin meeting, its attendees and its impact on organized crime can be found in:

DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime - Vol. II
by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona.


Article sources:

  • Fitchette, Woodie, and Steve Hambalek, "Top U.S. hoods are run out of area after 'sick call' on Barbara," Binghamton NY Press, Nov. 15, 1957, p. 1.
  • “65 hoodlums seized in raid and run out of upstate village,” New York Times, Nov. 15, 1957, p. 1
  • "Cops spoil mobster Apalachin reunion," Elmira NY Star-Gazette, Nov. 15, 1957, p. 1.
  • “How hoodlum rally went haywire,” Syracuse Herald Journal, Nov. 16, 1957, p. 1.
  • "Cops probe convention of gangland," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 16, 1957, p. 1.
  • Feinberg, Alexander, “U.S. taking steps to deport aliens at gang meeting,” New York Times, Nov. 24, 1957, p. 1.

04 November 2017

Evidence of some lingering hostility

Bioff's body lies in the wreckage
of his exploded pickup truck
(Arizona Republic)
On this date in 1955, a former Chicago Outfit member living under an assumed identity in Arizona was killed in a car-bombing. The fatal explosion was linked to an extortion racket exposed more than a decade earlier.

"Fat Willie" Bioff, a native of Chicago's West Side, relocated to southern California before World War II and became an aide to International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) union President George Browne. As he became a union official, Bioff already had a reputation for violence (Chicago police suspected him of involvement in the murder of Wisconsin gang boss Jack Zuta) and for close affiliation with members of the Capone organization. In California, he remained in close touch with the Outfit's West Coast rackets overseer Johnny Roselli.

In the early 1940s, federal authorities became aware of an ongoing Chicago Outfit scheme to extort vast sums from movie companies through control of motion picture industry unions, and Bioff emerged as a central player in that scheme, the main link between the IATSE union and Chicago organized crime. Word leaked from federal grand jury proceedings in New York City that studio executive Joseph Schenck was revealing the extortion scheme.

Bioff
Outfit leaders, trying to assess the damage of the Schenck testimony, quickly got in touch with Bioff through Roselli. Bioff's response to the news - "Now, we're all in trouble" - concerned his higher-ups in the mob. Outfit leaders feared that Bioff would make a deal with the federal prosecutor and reveal their connection to the racket. The underworld bosses wanted to kill Bioff in order to resolve the issue, but Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti talked them out of it. Nitti convinced them that Bioff was a "stand-up guy" and could be trusted to keep his mouth shut.

Bioff and Browne were convicted in November 1941 of extorting more than half a million dollars from movie studio bosses at Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and other companies during the 1930s. (Bioff later admitted that the total profit was more than a million dollars. The figure was subsequently inflated in the press to $2.5 million.) Bioff was sentenced to ten years in prison. Brown was sentenced to eight years. Each man was fined $20,000.

Browne
While in custody, Bioff betrayed his underworld colleagues and provided evidence to investigators. He confessed that he had arranged annual studio payments ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, depending on the size of the studio, and revealed that the racket was directed by a group of crime figures. By cooperating, he earned a sentence commutation - he and Browne were released in 1944 - but he also incurred the wrath of the Chicago Outfit.

Bioff grand jury testimony in 1943 resulted in indictments against Frank "the Enforcer" Nitti, Charles "Cherry Nose" Gioe, Frank "Frankie Diamond" Maritote, Johnny Roselli, Louis "Little New York" Campagna, Paul "the Waiter" Ricca (DeLucia), Phil D'Andrea and Ralph Pierce of the Oufit, as well as IATSE business agent Louis Kaufman. Upon learning of the indictments on March 19, 1943, Nitti, friend and staunch defender of Bioff to that time, shot himself in front of witnesses.

The other Outfit mobsters were successfully prosecuted and sentenced on Dec. 31, 1943, to ten years in prison. Gioe, Campagna, Ricca and D'Andrea received early paroles in summer of 1947. Many expected immediate action against the Outfit traitor Bioff. But years passed without any related news.

In 1955, all the past unpleasantness seemed forgotten. Bioff and his wife Laurie were living under assumed names (Mr. and Mrs. William Nelson) in Phoenix, Arizona. There seemed little threat of underworld retribution for Bioff's betrayal. Involved Chicago mobsters had long ago served their prison terms and completed their probations. Most of them were no longer among the living.

Nitti shot himself in front of witnesses immediately upon learning of the extortion indictments. Charles Gioe and Frank Maritote were shot to death in August of 1954. (The FBI determined that their murders were due to Johnny Roselli's suspicions that they had cooperated with federal authorities.) Phil D'Andrea and Louis Campagna had died, reportedly of natural causes, in 1952 and 1955, respectively. (Ricca, Pierce and Roselli lived into the 1970s. Ricca and Pierce died of natural causes, in 1972 and 1976, respectively. Roselli was the victim of an apparent gangland execution in the summer of 1976.)


Evidence of some lingering hostility was seen on the morning of Nov. 4, 1955: Fifty-five-year-old Bioff climbed into his pickup truck inside his home garage. As he stepped on the starter, an explosion suddenly shook the neighborhood.

According to a press account, "The blast threw Bioff twenty-five feet and scattered wreckage over a radius of several hundred. It left only the twisted frame, the motor and the truck wheels. The garage door was blown out, the roof shattered and windows in the Bioff home and several neighboring houses were broken. Jagged chunks of metals tore holes in the wall of a home 100 feet away. The blast rattled windows a mile away."

Bioff's body, minus both legs and a right hand, were found 25 feet from the explosion.


A representative of the local sheriff's office told the press, "I don't know whether this was a professional gangster job or not, but it certainly was an effective one."

Phoenix police had noted a visit to the city of Outfit leader Anthony Accardo a short time before the murder of Bioff but could not meaningfully connect the visit to the bombing. No one was ever convicted for Bioff's murder.

See also:
Sources:
  • Lahey, Edwin A., "Willie Bioff, who sent Capone Mob to prison, should rest easier with Maritote's death," Des Moines IA Tribune, Aug. 24, 1954, p. 13.
  • Lee, Eddie, "Blast in Phoenix kills Willie Bioff," Arizona Daily Star, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • Loughran, Robert T., "Underworld caught up with 'Fat Willie' Bioff," Sheboygan WI Press (United Press), Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • McLain, Gene, "Willie Bioff blown to bits! Bombed at Phoenix home," Arizona Republic, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • Parker, Lowell, "Willie Bioff has reason to complain he'd been 'Peglerized,'" Arizona Republic, May 7, 1975, p. 6.
  • Wendt, Lloyd, "The men who prey on labor," Chicago Tribune, Aug. 10, 1941, p. Graphic Section 2.
  • Yost, Newton E., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-683, July 22, 1964, NARA no. 124-10208-10406.
  • "Campagna, Gioe ordered freed in parole fight," Chicago Tribune, Dec. 5, 1948, p. 17.
  • "Blast in truck kills Willie Bioff, once Hollywood racket leader," New York Times, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.
  • "Revenge-bent gang killed Bioff, view," Sheboygan WI Press, Nov. 5, 1955, p. 1.

30 October 2017

CIA joins with Mafia in effort to kill Castro

Some Kennedy assassination-related documents released through the National Archives last week (October 26, 2017) and earlier this year (July 24, 2017) discussed CIA cooperation with American organized criminals in an effort to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The documents revealed little about CIA-underworld interaction that was not already known to historians through other sources, but the release provides an occasion to reflect upon that interaction and its aftermath.

Another release of documents is expected in six months' time. Any additional pages will likely be in general agreement with those we already have. The key features of the government-underworld conspiracy appear to be these:

  • A small group of CIA officials decided to accomplish the assassination of Cuba's Communist President Fidel Castro by working with American Mafiosi, who had been deprived of Havana casino income by Castro's rise to power.
  • No written approvals of the plan by top CIA administrators or White House officials were ever obtained, though the CIA plotters later insisted that oral approvals from CIA higher-ups were obtained and that some discussion occurred with the White House.
  • In an effort to keep CIA involvement in the plot a secret, an outside intermediary was used to make contacts with Mafiosi. CIA was prepared to pay $150,000 to the Castro assassin.
  • The intermediary met and plotted with Mafiosi Santo Trafficante, Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli. The mobsters refused to take any money. Despite the efforts to keep CIA involvement a secret, the mobsters quickly figured out that CIA was involved.
  • A level of cooperation between the Mafia and the CIA was first exposed early in the planning process, when a technician illegally wiretapping a Las Vegas entertainer's telephone for Giancana was arrested and sought help from the CIA. CIA became involved and succeeded in having charges dropped, but FBI investigated the matter.
  • As FBI reported to Attorney General Robert Kennedy about the incident, the Bureau warned that any CIA-Mafia arrangement could subject the U.S. government to underworld blackmail.
  • Several times, Giancana and Roselli sought to use the CIA relationship to their personal advantage.
  • CIA scientists designed six poison pills. Those pills were delivered in two separate batches to Mafia contacts in Cuba so they could be placed in food or drink consumed by Castro. The pills reportedly were never used.
  • CIA-Mafia plans to poison Castro were called off following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961. CIA conspirators remained in contact with Mafiosi for several years and continued to develop Castro assassination plans, though new leadership at the CIA did not know of the contacts or the plans until they were brought to light by the FBI.
  • Columnist Jack Anderson wrote about CIA plotting against Castro in 1967 and exposed Mafia involvement in the plotting in 1971. Official documents relating to the CIA-Mafia venture were discovered by the Rockefeller Commission and the Senate's Church Committee in 1975. Some secrecy was maintained until the New York Times published information about the government's relationship with Giancana and Roselli the following year.
  • Giancana was murdered in 1975. Roselli was murdered in 1976. Their killings appeared to be gangland "hits," but some were concerned that the murders related to their work with the CIA.

Click here to read the full article (including links to released government documents) at the American Mafia history website (mafiahistory.us)

27 October 2017

Many, but not all, JFK files released

TIME photograph
Last night, the U.S. National Archives publicly released 2,891 previously classified documents relating to the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The documents are accessible through the National Archives website.

National Archives
The release was made in accordance with a law passed in 1992, which required that assassination records be made public after 25 years. Then-President George H.W. Bush signed the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act on Oct. 26, 1992, setting a final release date of Oct. 26, 2017. A batch of 3,810 documents were released July 24, several months before the deadline. A last remaining batch of at least 3,140 files - many thousands of pages - remained secret through the final day, waiting on a release authorization by President Donald Trump.

In the evening, President Trump issued a memorandum approving the release of 2,891 of the remaining files but permitting an additional six months of review on 249 others. Reports indicate that officials of the CIA and FBI urged that those files not be released.

The President said the continued secrecy was necessary to address "national security, law enforcement, and foreign affairs concerns." He further stated, "This temporary withholding from full public disclosure is necessary to protect against harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure." The review of remaining material is scheduled for completion by April 26, 2018, but some information may remain classified after that time if agencies can demonstrate a continued national security threat from its exposure.

Portion of released document

Working through the night to digest the just-released documents, historians and researchers discovered some interesting items:

 - One CIA document, dealing with Lee Harvey Oswald's trip to Mexico City two months before the Kennedy assassination, suggested that Oswald was accompanied on that trip by anti-Castro Cuban Francisco Rodriguez Tamayo. Rodriguez Tamayo was a captain in Castro's army before defecting to the U.S. in June 1959. He subsequently led an anti-Castro training facility in Louisiana.

 - Documents also revealed that the government of Mexico was actively aiding the U.S. in electronic surveillance of Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico City.

 - Some documents related to CIA efforts to encourage the assassination of Cuban President Fidel Castro and other Cuban communist leaders. There also was discussion of agency outreach to American organized crime leaders for their help in eliminating Castro.

Reviewers of the documents have noted that the collection released last night did not contain any "blockbuster" revelations and shed little light on subjects of intense interest to assassination conspiracy theorists, such as the relationship between Oswald and the Central Intelligence Agency.



Personal note: I am amazed that "national security" is still being used as an excuse to deny U.S. citizens access to documents about the assassination of their President 54 years ago. Assassination is the ultimate breach of national security. Only by completely understanding and appropriately responding to what occurred can we hope to restore that security. I'm sure we will find (someday) that personal/agency embarrassment - government INsecurity - is the real reason documents continue to be concealed. And I would argue that secrecy over embarrassing facts is itself a serious threat to national security.


Links:

15 October 2017

New Orleans police chief ambushed, murdered

On this date (Oct. 15) in 1890, New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy was fatally shot by several Mafia assassins a short distance from his home. He succumbed to his wounds the following morning.

Scene of Hennessy assassination

Hennessy attended a meeting of the city's police commission during the early evening of October 15. The meeting broke up at about nine o'clock. Hennessy was driven back to police headquarters at the southwest corner of Common (Tulane Avenue) and Basin Streets. Captain William O'Connor of the private Boylan Protection Agency met him there to escort the police chief home. Hennessy, perceived as a partisan in a local underworld feud, received a number of death threats from the local Mafia. City fathers hired the Boylan agency to keep him safe.

New Orleans Police Chief David C. Hennessy
Hennessy
Though Hennessy had a reputation for punctuality (he lived with his widowed mother and tried to avoid worrying her), the chief did not immediately head home. Instead, he and O'Connor, long acquainted, chatted at police headquarters for more than an hour. They left the building a few minutes after eleven.

While Basin Street was the most direct route between Hennessy's office and his home on Girod Street, heavy rains of earlier in the day had caused some flooding in the area. Hennessy and O'Connor took a significantly lengthier route, riverward on Common Street and then up Rampart Street to the intersection with Poydras Street. At that corner, the two men stopped into Dominick Virget's Oyster Saloon for a late snack. A teetotaler, Hennessy had a glass of milk with his plate of oysters.

At eleven-thirty, the men stepped out of Virget's and continued up Rampart Street. They paused in front of the McDonough schoolhouse at the corner of Rampart and Girod, about one and a half city squares from Hennessy's home. O'Connor said goodbye to Hennessy at that point, though he had been assigned with seeing the chief all the way home. O'Connor crossed the intersection diagonally to his left - his intended destination is unknown - while Hennessy turned right on Girod.

The chief took only a few strides and then halted as a young man darted out of a Girod Street doorway and ran toward Basin Street whistling loudly. The youth turned right onto Basin and disappeared around the side of Mrs. Ehrwald's second-hand store.

Hennessy assassins fired from beneath shed roof
The assassins' first
shots were fired from
beneath this shed roof
Hennessy managed just a few steps more. As he reached the front of the residence at No. 269 Girod Street, shotgun pellets tore into him from his left. The initial blast, originating from the darkness under a shed roof on the opposite site of Girod, shredded his umbrella, disabled his left hand and knocked him backward. Hennessy instinctively drew his ivory-handled Colt revolver. Another blast of shotgun pellets ripped through his slacks and shattered his right knee. On his way to the ground, the chief was struck by pellets in the chest and abdomen and then in the face and neck. Hennessy fired his revolver into the darkness across the street as he struggled to stand up.

Two shadowy figures stepped into Girod Street. Illuminated by a streetlamp and within sight of some residents whose attention was caught by the gunshots, they advanced toward the fallen police chief. They fired large-caliber slugs into Hennessy's midsection and then ran off.

Mortally wounded, Hennessy managed to rise to his feet. He stumbled a few yards in the direction of home. At the corner, he turned onto Basin. He dragged his disabled leg just a few more paces and collapsed onto the front steps of No. 189 Basin Street. Captain O'Connor, at most only a single square away when the gunfire erupted, somehow reached the chief's side far too late to fulfill his function as bodyguard.

"They gave it to me," Hennessy gasped, "and I gave it back the best I could."

O'Connor asked if the chief could identify his attackers. Hennessy reportedly replied, "Dagoes."

 - - - 

Hennessy died before he could provide any additional identification of his killers. Suspected Mafia members and associates were arrested and charged with conspiring in the assassination of the police chief. Nine men, including New Orleans-born businessman Joseph P. Macheca, were the first to be brought to trial early in 1891.

Captain William O'Connor, who should have been the prosecution's key witness in the case, was never called to testify. O'Connor might have explained the timing and the route of Hennessy's walk home, factors that brought him late at night into a well-planned ambush. The captain also might have explained his own fortuitously timed departure from the chief's side - just seconds before the shooting began - and his slow return to the chief after the shooting had finished and the assassins had run off.

None of the accused men were convicted. Six of those tried, including Macheca, reputed Mafia boss Charlie Matranga, and Asperi Marchesi, the boy-lookout who whistled upon the arrival of Hennessy, were acquitted. The jury could not reach a verdict for three other defendants identified by witnesses as shooters of the police chief.  After the trial, some jurors revealed that they had been concerned that Captain O'Connor did not testify.

Angered by the jury verdict, a mob stormed Orleans Parish Prison on the morning of March 14, 1891, and murdered Macheca and ten other prisoners.

 - - - 

Read more about Police Chief Hennessy
and the early Mafia of New Orleans:


Deep Water:
Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia

by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon
(Available in softcover and Kindle e-book formats)

07 October 2017

Mafia leader's corpse discovered in Long Island

Cutolo
On this date (Oct. 7) in 2008, a body excavated from a roadside in Farmingdale, Long Island, was officially identified as that of William "Wild Bill" Cutolo, former underboss of the Colombo Crime Family. The partly decomposed remains, found wrapped in a tarp beneath a grassy area east of Route 110, were identified through dental and medical records.

Cutolo had been missing and presumed dead since 1999. On May 26, 1999, the forty-nine-year-old underworld leader told his wife Marguerite "Peggy" Cutolo that he was going to a meeting with acting boss Alphonse T. Persico in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He never returned. His death was immediately suspected when he did not show up for a weekly dinner with his crew at the Friendly Bocce Social Club in Brooklyn that evening.

Investigators noted that Cutolo's underworld rackets - including a lucrative loan sharking operation - and business interests were immediately taken over by Alphonse Persico. In 2001, Persico pleaded guilty to federal racketeering, loan-sharking and money-laundering charges. The case was built in part on Cutolo financial records found in Persico's possession.

In 2006, Persico and his top aide John DeRoss were tried in federal court for racketeering and murder. They were charged with ordering the killing of Cutolo. That case ended in mistrial, but Persico and DeRoss were retried and convicted on the charges in 2007. For that trial, Cutolo's wife emerged from the federal witness protection program to testify against them. In addition to noting that her husband was on his way to meet with Persico when he disappeared, Marguerite testified that, the day after the disappearance, John DeRoss showed up at the Cutolo home demanding all of "Wild Bill's" money and financial records.

Persico
On Feb. 27, 2009, Persico and Cutolo were given life prison sentences. At the time, prosecutors believed that Cutolo's remains had been disposed of in the Atlantic Ocean and would never be found. It was argued that Persico and DeRoss, fearing that Cutolo and his faction (described as remnants of the Vittorio Orena faction that years earlier warred with the Persicos for control of the organization) intended to take over the crime family, had Cutolo murdered.

Acting on a tip from informant Joseph "Joey Caves" Competiello, agents of the FBI's Evidence Recovery Team and police officers from Suffolk County began digging at several Farmingdale locations on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008. They hoped to find the bodies of Cutolo, Richard Greaves and Carmine Gargano, all believed murdered by the leadership of the Colombo Crime Family.

They discovered the tarp-wrapped body, said to still be wearing a pair of Italian loafers, the following Monday, Oct. 6. In addition to dental records, the body was identified as Cutolo's through a distinctive physical feature - the tip of the right middle finger was missing.

Gioeli
The story of Cutolo's murder was made public in Brooklyn Federal Court in March of 2012. "Big Dino" Calabro, a Colombo Family capodecina, cooperated with authorities and testified against his underworld associates. According to Calabro, Thomas "Tommy Shots" Gioeli (who later rose to acting boss) arranged the 1999 hit. Cutolo was to be called to a meeting of crime family leaders. Gioeli planned to drive Cutolo to the meeting at the home of Calabro's cousin, "Little Dino" Saracino. There Cutolo would be killed and his body disposed of.

Calabro recalled; "When the time came, we were sitting in the basement. [Calabro was apparently looking out a basement window at Saracino's house, expecting to see Gioeli and Cutolo walk up.] We seen one set of legs walking by, not two. I went outside to see who it was, and it was Billy Cutolo. I shook hands with him. He asked me where to go. I showed him the stairs. He walked ahead. I pulled out my gun and shot him in the head. I closed the door. I went outside. I seen Tommy. He said, 'What happened?' I said, 'It's done'"

Cutolo's body was then tied up and wrapped in the tarp and buried in what at the time was a wooded lot.

According to prosecutors, Calabro was promoted to capodecina as a reward for eliminating the Cutolo threat.

Sources:

  • Newman, Andy, "Reputed Colombo mob family boss pleads guilty to racketeering," New York Times, Dec. 21, 2001.
  • "Mistrial is declared in mob murder case," New York Times, Nov. 4, 2006, p. B3.
  • Algar, Selim, "Mob widow points finger at Persico," New York Post, Nov. 9, 2007.
  • "Is a mob hitman buried in Farmingdale?" Eyewitness News, WABC-TV, New York, Oct. 1, 2008.
  • "F.B.I. digs for mob bodies on L.I.," New York Times, Oct. 2, 2008, p. B6.
  • "F.B.I. may have found body in search of L.I. burial site," New York Times, Oct. 7, 2008, p. 27.
  • Marzulli, John, and Leo Standora, "Corpse found at Long Island mob dig may be Wild Bill Cutolo," New York Daily News, Oct. 7, 2008.
  • "Body identified as missing mobster's," New York Times, Oct. 7, 2008, p. 28.
  • Feuer, Alan, "Awaiting an awkward burial," New York Times, Oct. 9, 2008, p. 31.
  • Wilson, Michael, and William K. Rashbaum, "11 years after officer's slaying, reputed mob figures are indicted," New York Times, Dec. 19, 2008, p. 38.
  • Marzulli, John, "Former Colombo family boss indicted in 1997 murder of NYPD cop Ralph Dols," New York Daily News, Dec. 19, 2008.
  • Marzulli, John, "Colombo boss Alphonse Persico sentenced to life in prison for 1999 hit," New York Daily News, Feb. 27, 2009
  • "Colombo organized crime family acting boss Alphonse T. Persico and administration member John J. DeRoss sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of William 'Wild Bill' Cutolo and related witness tampering," press release of U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, Feb. 27, 2009. (LINK)
  • Rashbaum, William K., "F.B.I. resumes search for mob graves," New York Times, March 9, 2009.
  • Secret, Mosi, "Witness testifies how plot to kill officer was set up," New York Times, March 28, 2012, p. 22.
  • MobNews blog entries for "Cutolo." (LINK)

18 September 2017

'Gangland Boston' due in October

Gangland Boston, due out in October 2017, is the newest book by Boston Globe crime reporter and author Emily Sweeney. (In 2012, Sweeney released an Images of America book entitled, Boston Organized Crime.)


From publisher Lyons Press: "Organized criminals have haunted Greater Boston’s history, lurking just around the corner or inside that nondescript building. Packed with photos, sidebars, and maps, Gangland Bostonreveals the secrets of these places, showing how the Italian mafia and Irish gangs rose to power, how the Winter Hill gang ascended to prominence, and how James “Whitey” Bulger became the region’s most feared crime boss. These are the places where deals were made, people were killed, and bodies were unearthed. From South Boston to the North End, Chinatown, Downtown, and Charlestown; Somerville, Brookline, and more . . . come and see where mobsters lived, worked, ate, played, and died."

The book will be available in paperback through Amazon.com.

Signed copies can be ordered now through Sweeney's website: www.bostonorganizedcrime.com/

14 September 2017

1874 White League revolt in New Orleans

J.P. Macheca, later linked with local Mafia,
played key role in Reconstruction Era battle

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
On this date in 1874, New Orleans merchant Joseph P. Macheca played a critical role in the White League's defeat of a militia/police force controlled by Louisiana's Reconstruction-Era Republican state government. The conflict stemmed from contested elections that resulted in the creation of competing state administrations and legislatures. The conservative Democratic administration formed its own militia, calling it "Louisiana's Own," and prepared for conflict.

Macheca
Following failed negotiations on September 14, 1874, Republican forces led by former Confederate General James Longstreet and Metropolitan Police "General" Algernon Badger moved several thousand men into position on the downtown side of Canal Street, at the edge of the French Quarter. Badger personally commanded hundreds of Metropolitan Police, along with 12-pound cannons and Gatling guns, in a location between the U.S. Customs House and the levee. The police force was made up largely of recent African-American recruits. Longstreet oversaw militia units further from the levee.

White League paramilitary forces, including many Civil War veterans, were already assembled behind barricades along Poydras Street, a few blocks uptown from Canal. They hoped to lure Republican forces into an uptown trap. Shouted taunts, snipers and a quick attack and retreat failed to entice Longstreet into an advance.

Captain Joseph P. Macheca's Company B of Second Regiment "Louisiana's Own" made the decisive move. Initially hiding behind piles of unloaded freight on the levee, the unit used an approaching train to cover its movement toward Badger's left flank. Macheca's three hundred men (the roster of his Company B at Jackson Barracks Military Museum lists only 120) consisted largely of Italian and other European immigrants drawn from the French Quarter.

New Orleans Bulletin
Sept. 18, 1874
As the train passed, Company B swarmed in from the levee. Badger's inexperienced police were taken completely off-guard. Most fled into the French Quarter. Badger was injured when his horse was shot from under him. He was protected from further injury by Macheca and his men. (Some wished to hang the police commander.)

Following the collapse of Badger's position, other Republican units melted away downtown into the French Quarter. The White League militia did not immediately pursue, and its victory was not complete until the following morning, September 15. It was then that White League Colonel John G. Angell began to probe across Canal Street and found no Republican resistance. Several blocks into the French Quarter, Angell discovered Macheca's men in control of key Republican positions, including the Republican arsenal. Macheca turned over to Angell thousands of seized weapons,  two artillery pieces and hundreds of prisoners.

Democratic forces retained control in the city only for a short time, as U.S. President Grant moved the federal military into the area to support the return of the Republican government. White League supporters, viewing the conflict in New Orleans as a battle against oppression, later named the fight, "the Battle of Liberty Place" and referred to it as the final battle of the Civil War. (A monument to the battle was installed on Canal Street in 1891. The monument, which became a symbol for the white supremacist movement, was removed during 1989 construction on Canal Street and later erected on Iberville Street. It was dismantled on April 24, 2017.)

Apparently uncomfortable with its debt to the Italian-American force commanded by the Louisiana-born, ethnically Italian Macheca, the White League sought to minimize Macheca's role in histories of the event. (The White League record, published in the New Orleans Daily Picayune and New Orleans Bulletin on Oct. 2, noted that Colonel Angell was ordered to advance from Canal Street on the fifteenth. The report stated vaguely, "By 10 o'clock A.M., Col. Angell was in the possession of all the enemy's important points below Canal street, having received material assistance in this movement from Capt. Macheca.") However, accounts have survived showing that Macheca was first to arrive at the side of fallen General Badger and that he turned over captured Republican strongholds in the French Quarter to Colonel Angell. In addition, when Macheca felt slighted by local press coverage, he sent his own account to the New Orleans Bulletin (see image).

Map of the battle.
A number of Macheca's men later became key figures in the New Orleans Sicilian business community and the Sicilian underworld. Sixteen years after the Battle of Liberty Place, Macheca and members of the New Orleans Mafia were arrested in connection with the assassination of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy. Macheca was one of eleven men killed after an angry mob stormed Orleans Parish Prison early in 1891.

Read more about "Liberty Place," Joseph Macheca and the early New Orleans Mafia in:





05 September 2017

End of 'Village' influence over Genovese clan?

"Venero Frank 'Benny Eggs' Mangano, one of the Genovese Crime Family's oldest and strongest remaining links to its traditional Lower West Side foundation, died of natural causes in Manhattan's Greenwich Village on August 18, 2017. He was ninety-five years old. 

"The Greenwich Village area was a stronghold of the organization that became known as the Genovese Family since a young Vito Genovese joined forces with Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria in the Prohibition Era. Venero Mangano's parents, newcomers to the United States, settled in the area in the early 1910s ..."

» Read more at The American Mafia history website (mafiahistory.us).

28 August 2017

Macheca and the Civil War black market

On this date (Aug. 28) in 1863, Joseph Macheca of New Orleans was tried and convicted in a Union military occupation court in connection with a scheme to steal and sell barrels of U.S. Army pork and beef.

Daily Picayune
The barrels officially belonged to the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. They had been loaded aboard the steamship North America, a government transport, at Port Hudson, Louisiana (recently fallen to the Union forces after a 48-day siege). The North America steamed its cargo up the Mississippi River in support of the 4th Massachusetts' advance to Cairo, Louisiana. Remaining barrels were brought to New Orleans, and the ship captain and a steward sold some to Macheca for resale through the Macheca family produce store in the city.

While other conspirators were sent to prison, young Macheca was merely ordered to pay a $50 fine.

Joseph Macheca previously had enlisted for service in the Confederate Army and returned home to New Orleans in advance of the Union invasion of the city. Union occupiers generally controlled businesses and provisions in the region. The produce business of Macheca's step-father - a native of Malta and a British citizen - was one exception.

Following his conviction, Macheca left New Orleans for Texas, where he reportedly gathered a small fortune through smuggling. Macheca returned after the Civil War and became a close ally of New Orleans Mafiosi while building a produce business and a shipping line.

Macheca was among those charged, tried and acquitted of the 1890 assassination of Police Chief Hennessy. The New Orleans merchant was one of eleven prisoners murdered after Orleans Parish Prison was stormed by an anti-Mafia mob in 1891.

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

11 August 2017

Live by the sword...

Mafia assassin Umberto Valente
killed in East Village shooting

On this date in 1922: Mafia assassin Umberto Valente was gunned down in a bold daylight shooting on a busy Manhattan street corner.

Valente was seen with a group of men at the intersection of East 12th Street and Second Avenue at about noon, when he suddenly darted into the intersection toward a taxicab. Two other men also moved into the intersection, drew handguns and opened fire on the fleeing man.

Valente reached the runningboard of the taxi and tried to return fire before collapsing unconscious to the street. His attackers fired a few shots toward a gathering crowd and made their escape through the basement of an apartment building at 233 East 12th Street.

Stray slugs wounded a New York street cleaner and an eleven-year-old girl from New Haven, Connecticut, who was in New York City visiting her grandfather.

NYPD Detective Sgt. Kirk witnessed the end of the gunfight from a streetcar. He rushed to the fallen Valente and commandeered an automobile to take Valente to St. Mark's Hospital. Valente never regained consciousness. He died of his wounds about an hour later.

According to an often repeated underworld legend (told and likely created by the notoriously inventive David Leon Chandler), the gunman who fired the fatal shots into Valenti was Salvatore Lucania (later known as Charlie Luciano), at that time an underling of Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. Evidence in support of the tale is lacking. Lucania's only documented brush with the law in August of 1922 occurred near the end of the month when his car was pulled over for a traffic violation.


Investigators determined that Valente had been responsible for the attempted murder of Giuseppe Masseria a few days earlier on August 8. Masseria surprisingly escaped unharmed - except for a couple of bullet holes through his straw hat - after being cornered by a gunman near his home, 80 Second Avenue (less than half a mile from the spot where Valente was killed). On the afternoon of the eleventh, police found Masseria at his home, insisting that he had not been out of the building and knew nothing of the attack on Valente. His denials were unconvincing. It was assumed that Masseria either directly participated in or ordered the shooting of Valente.

Already awaiting a murder trial for the shooting death of Silvio Tagliagambe two months earlier, Masseria was charged also with the murder of Valente.

Police hypothesized that Masseria and Valente, both known to be involved in Manhattan bootlegging and gambling rackets, had become underworld rivals. Much later, authorities learned that Masseria and allies were engaged in a gangland war with reigning Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila. Valente had been assigned by D'Aquila to eliminate Joe the Boss.

Sources:
  • "Eight men shot in mysterious battle on street," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 8, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Gunmen shoot six in East Side swarm," New York Times, Aug. 9, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Cloakmaker, victim of gunman, dies; 3 more in hospital," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 9, 1922, p. 20.
  • "Gunman's volley fatal to striker," New York Times, Aug. 10, 1922, p. 13
  • "Car used in street battle traced here," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 10, 1922, p. 18.
  • "1 dead, 2 shot, as bootleggers again fight on East Side," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "One killed, two shot in pistol battle," Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "One man killed, two wounded, in gang war," New York Call, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 4.
  • "Mystery in rum street battle near solution," New York Tribune, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 16.
  • "East Side bad man killed as shots fly," New York Herald, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 16.
  • "Gang kills gunman; 2 bystanders hit," New York Times, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 20.
  • "Valente's arrest balked by murder," New York Evening World, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 3.
  • "New Haven girl wounded in New York bootleggers' feud," Bridgeport CT Telegram, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Bootleggers at war," Philadelphia Inquirer (Associated Press), Aug. 12, 1922, p. 2.
  • Chandler, David Leon, Brothers in Blood: The Rise of the Criminal Brotherhoods, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1975.
  • Gentile, Nick, with Felice Chilanti, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Crescenzi Allendorf, 1993.

27 July 2017

1909 Connecticut murder linked to NYC Mafia

On this date in 1909...
An orchardman in Danbury, Connecticut, is ambushed and shot to death at his doorstep on Hospital Avenue. Newspaper reports immediately link his murder to the Morello-Lupo Mafia organization in New York City and to the famous Barrel Murder case.

Giovanni Zarcone of Danbury
Near the centennial of this murder (now eight years ago), I was invited to speak about it at the Danbury Museum and Historical Society. A couple of documents were prepared for that event: One was the text of my remarks and the other was a collection of related images. Links to these documents are provided below.

An article relating to the murder and its background was published in the July 2009 issue of Informer: The Journal of American Mafia History. That issue remains available in print and electronic formats through the MagCloud service.


23 July 2017

Brooklyn's 1902 'Sack Murder' (1 of 4)

Bay Ridge boys, heading out for summer evening swim,
were first to encounter grisly contents of discarded sack

(Jump to Part 2)
Joseph Donahue, Robert Pearsall
and John Mulqueen (left to right)

On this date in 1902...
Fourteen-year-old John Mulqueen and three of his friends slid down the grassy slope from the foot of Seventy-third Street in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. As they moved through trees and tall weeds toward the rocky shore of New York Bay, they began removing their clothes. The sun had set on a steamy Wednesday, July 23, 1902, and the boys were ready for a cooling swim.

Before heading into the water, the four teens fanned out, looking for remote hiding places for their clothes. None wanted to take the chance of falling victim to the “chaw beef” trick. That practical joke involved tying tight knots into the shirt and pants of a bather. When the victim came out of the water, he would need to use teeth along with fingers to get the knots out. Onlookers would cheer, “Chaw beef, chaw beef...,” as the knots were undone.

Young Mulqueen carried his garment bundle off into the grass, where he spotted what looked to be a large and very full potato sack. The boy found the object irresistible. He pulled a small knife from his clothes and put a slit into the sack. Underneath, he found another container, which appeared to be made of tougher material.

He gathered his friends and began slicing into the inner liner. When the dusk light fell upon a portion of the sack’s contents, the boys recoiled. A man was inside, naked and lifeless.

“It’s a dead man!” Mulqueen shouted.

The boys, stunned by what they saw, retreated and hastily put their clothes back on. Mulqueen, who lived a few blocks away at 321 Seventy-fourth Street, decided that the police were needed. He suggested that two of the group leave at once for the Fort Hamilton Police Station on Eighty-sixth Street near Fifth Avenue. The other two should keep watch on the area, he said. Joseph Donahue of 346 Seventy-fourth Street, Robert Pearsall of 1671 Third Avenue and William Chambers of 206½ Chambers Street all agreed that Mulqueen’s plan was sound. However, none of the boys wished to be left behind with the bagged corpse. They decided on an alternate plan – they would all go together to fetch the police.

By road, the distance between their favorite swimming spot and the station was about one and a half miles. But the layout of Bay Ridge in 1902 – sprawling farms, large vacation estates and smaller homes surrounded by woods through which paths had been carved – allowed a more direct route and cut the trip to the station by about a third.

Desk Sergeant Hughes somewhat reluctantly listened to John Mulqueen’s story. He doubted that the boys had stumbled upon a corpse in a bag of potatoes, but dispatched three police officers with Mulqueen and his friends in a patrol wagon to investigate.

The Brooklyn officers followed Mulqueen’s direction to the sack and quickly verified his tale. Unprepared to conduct an investigation on the dark shore, the officers decided to take the large bundle back to their station. With considerable difficulty, they dragged the sack and its contents up the twenty-foot-high slope to the intersection of Seventy-third Street and Shore Road, loading it into the patrol wagon.

A thorough examination of the corpse and its wrappings was conducted under the lights at Fort Hamilton Station. The outer covering was indeed a large potato sack. Stenciled on it were the words, “Paton’s Selected Scotch – 168 lbs.” Police determined that the inner lining had been assembled from some floor matting sewn into the shape of a bag. Another bag was found over the head of the victim. Around that was wrapped a few pages from the Sunday, July 13, issue of the New York Times.

Despite the date of that newspaper, investigators could see that the victim had been dead not longer than twenty-four hours. He was a fairly large and powerfully developed man, with a height of about five feet and ten inches and a weight approximated at two hundred and forty pounds. He had gray eyes, black hair and a lighter color mustache. Police guessed that he was roughly thirty eight years old.

The cause of death was readily apparent. A deep gash ran across the victim's throat from ear to ear, nearly disconnecting the head from the torso. The coroner noted that only a single cord of neck muscle remained intact. The victim had bled out quickly, possibly losing as much as a gallon of blood in the moments following his murder.

Two other short stab wounds were found on the neck and face. A number of other wounds on the body were noted. The victim’s left thumb and forefinger were missing, the result of a much older injury. Several scrapes looked to be defensive injuries. Bruises were visible all over the body. Several larger bones had been broken. The coroner theorized that the broken bones might have occurred after death, as the body was stuffed into the floor mat bag. Heavy twine had been used to fold the body in half by joining the upper spine to the lower legs. This, too, was seen as a measure taken to allow for easy disposal of the victim.

Detectives and patrolmen returned to the shore with lanterns to search for additional clues. They discovered another potato sack, which held a black suit, a shirt, shoes and a derby hat. The suit and shirt had been cut into large strips and were stained with blood. With the clothes, the detectives found two folded documents. One was a bill of lading for a tomato-based product imported from Italy. The other was a notice of eviction relating to a commercial establishment at 165 Columbia Street. Though the victim remained nameless, the documents suggested he was an Italian merchant doing business on Columbia Street.

Further up the slope from the spot where the body had been found, Officers Burns and White noted that a section of fence had been knocked over and several saplings crushed. From the available evidence the detectives concluded that the two potato sacks had been driven to Shore Road and thrown onto the slope from a vehicle. They speculated that the perpetrators of the crime, believing the water was closer to the road than it actually was, expected the sacks to roll out into the bay. Area residents reported seeing a wagon stopping briefly in the area during the night.

(Jump to Part 2)

Brooklyn's 1902 'Sack Murder' (2 of 4)

Victim identified as 'Joe the Grocer,'
Sicilian immigrant living under assumed name

(Return to Part 1)   (Jump to Part 3)

Police officers under the command of Captain Michael Devanney of Fort Hamilton Station and sleuths of the Brooklyn Detective Bureau led by Captain James G. Reynolds met at Columbia Street to follow the only clues to the victim’s identity.

167 Columbia Street
Detective Sergeant Antonio Vachris was one of the investigators dispatched to the scene by Captain Reynolds. Vachris, born in France to an Italian family making its way to the United States, was a longtime resident of Brooklyn and knew its Italian population well. He spoke Italian and some Sicilian dialects. One of the few non-Democrats to advance through the ranks of the Brooklyn police, Vachris secured promotion several months earlier from roundsman - street supervisor of patrolmen - to detective sergeant in an unusual way. He sued administrators of the New York Police Department, charging that he had been performing detective sergeant duties at Brooklyn headquarters for years while being denied the corresponding title and pay. The courts found in his favor and compelled Police Commissioner “Colonel” John N. Partridge to appropriately grade Vachris and others in his situation.

The building at 165 Columbia turned out to be a second-hand furniture store owned by Mary Noonan. The police awakened Noonan, who lived in an apartment above her business, and asked her about the eviction notice. She directed them to a grocery next door at 167 Columbia.

'Joe the Grocer' Catania
In the apartments above that store, police found grocer Giuseppe Catania’s wife and six children. Vachris learned that Catania, known in the neighborhood as “Joe the Grocer,” had been missing since Tuesday morning. The disappearance had been reported to police at the Fort Hamilton Station and at the Mulberry Street headquarters in Manhattan. Catania’s son Charlie and son-in-law Dominick Tutrone had been searching for him all over the city.

The murder victim reportedly had lived in Brooklyn for more than twenty years under the assumed name of Catania (Secret Service records later referred to him as Giuseppe DiTrapani), since emigrating from his native Palermo, Sicily. He initially worked as a longshoreman on the Brooklyn docks and lived for a time in a Sicilian neighborhood on Union Street.

Catania’s wife collapsed and wept loudly after hearing of her husband’s demise. The police learned very little from their initial attempts to question her. Her wailing woke a number of neighbors and drew them to the apartment. Police interviewed the small crowd and began piecing together a possible explanation for the murder.

Det. Sgt. Vachris
They learned that Catania fought with a man named Troia or Trica on Sunday, July 20. Catania showed up at Troia’s second-floor apartment on Hicks Street near the intersection with Summit and attempted to collect an old grocery debt of fourteen dollars. Troia refused to pay. The disagreement became physical, and Troia shoved Catania down a flight of stairs.

When police asked Mrs. Catania to confirm that her husband had fought with Troia, she became more talkative. She dismissed the fight as a possible cause for further violence. She told Vachris that her husband and Troia patched up their relationship on Monday. Troia, she said, pledged to pay his debt the following day.

According to Mrs. Catania, her husband left their home on Tuesday morning to meet Troia and collect his money. He then intended to head into Manhattan to pick up a case of imported tomato paste a friend had moved through the New York Customhouse. Catania had less than three dollars on him when he left the house, she said. She did not know if he ever made it to Manhattan.

She insisted that her husband was very well liked in the neighborhood. He spent his evenings at home, on the front steps, chatting with neighbors. He liked to drink, she said, but never drank too much.

(Return to Part 1)   (Jump to Part 3)