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

27 May 2020

Heart, lung ailments take 'Joe Batters'

Longtime Outfit boss started as Capone bodyguard

On this date in 1992...



Longtime Chicago Outfit boss Anthony Accardo succumbed on May 27, 1992, to lung and heart ailments at the age of eighty-six.

The former underworld leader had just returned to the Chicago area (he spent summers in the Barrington Hills home of son-in-law Ernest Kumerow) from his winter home in Palm Springs, California, when on Thursday, May 14, he was admitted to St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital Center. He died there at 7:36 p.m. on Wednesday, the twenty-seventh. A nursing supervisor told the press that the causes of death were congestive heart failure, acute respiratory failure, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmorary disease.

Funeral cortege. (Chicago Tribune)

Accardo was given a private funeral service two days later at the Montclair-Lucania Funeral Home, 6901 W. Belmont Avenue in Chicago. A Catholic priest was observed entering the funeral home through a rear entrance. Accardo's send-off was far more modest than the funerals of many of his underworld contemporaries. Police and press noted no gangland leaders in attendance. Just two floral offerings were seen - "two sprays of yellow and pink roses inside a slate gray hearse," reported the Chicago Tribune. Accardo was laid to rest at the Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

A life in Chicago crime
Accardo c.1930
Accardo was born in Chicago on April 28, 1906. His parents, Francesco and Maria Tillotta Accardo, were Sicilian immigrants, originally from Castelvetrano, who settled around 1904 on Gault Court in Chicago. His birth name was reportedly Anthony Leonardo Accardo, but later he was known as Anthony Joseph Accardo. Over time, he acquired the nicknames, "Joe Batters," "Joe B." and "Big Tuna."

According to the press, he was a full-time hoodlum by the age of sixteen. In the late 1920s, he served as an enforcer and bodyguard for Chicago underworld boss Al Capone. Accardo was largely able to avoid law enforcement notice until the Capone-orchestrated St. Valentine's Day Massacre intensified the scrutiny.

On February 1, 1930, Accardo was arrested along with "Machine Gun Jack" McGurn (Gibaldi) following the murder of informant Julius Rosenheim. Rosenheim was walking near his home after breakfast that morning, when an automobile pulled up to him and two men got out of it. The men drew handguns and fired five bullets into Roseheim's head, then returned to their car and sped away. Shortly after that, police detectives William Drury and John Howe spotted Accardo and McGurn riding in a taxicab at Dearborn and Harrison Streets and stopped them. They found both men illegally carrying firearms. McGurn had a loaded .45-calibre automatic pistol, and Accardo had a .32-calibre revolver.


Just six months later, Accardo and Sam "Golf Bag" Hunt were named as suspects in the murder of Chicago vice racketeer Jack Zuta. Zuta was killed at a Wisconsin resort hotel. The descriptions of two of his killers matched Accardo and Hunt. Authorities speculated that Zuta was murdered because he knew of Capone connections to the June 9 murder of Chicago Tribune reporter Alfred "Jake" Lingle.

Accardo was again arrested in May 2, 1931, police raids that were part of an investigation into the supposed murder of brothel keeper Mike Heitler. Police believed that a charred body found in smoldering ruins near Barrington, Illinois, was Heitler. The raids were conducted at known Capone headquarters and business enterprises. Accardo and three other men were grabbed at the Club Floridian, 674 West Madison Street. Other raids took place at the Lexington Hotel at Michigan Avenue and Twenty-second Street and at the Western Hotel in Cicero.

At the end of July 1931, the Chicago Crime Commission designated Accardo a "public enemy," adding him and twenty-seven other area hoodlums (including Charles Fischetti, Sam Hunt and Claude Maddox), to a list that had grown to fifty-six men. A photo of Accardo, then about twenty-five, was printed in the newspaper, along with photos of dozens of other crime figures.

Despite the increased attention, Accardo was able to avoid criminal conviction.

After Capone
Accardo's mentor, Capone, was sent off to prison for tax violations the following spring. Over the next decade, Accardo moved into positions of increasing importance within the Chicago Outfit. By the 1940s, he was considered one of the Outfit's top bosses, along with Frank Nitti, Paul Ricca (Felice DeLucia), Louis Campagna and Charles Gioe.

In 1943, the Outfit leadership was decimated by exposure of an extortion racket conducted against the Hollywood movie industry. As indictments were returned against those implicated in the racket, Nitti committed suicide. Near the end of the year, a federal jury returned guilty verdicts against Ricca, Campagna, Gioe, Johnny Rosselli (Filippo Sacco), Philip D'Andrea and Francis Maritote. They were sent to prison for ten-year terms.

With other bosses confined to federal prison, Accardo emerged as the single most powerful figure in Chicago organized crime. (Authorities took note of his visits to the imprisoned Ricca.) It appeared that the role weighed heavy on him, and in the 1950s he stepped away from day-to-day management, allowing Sam Giancana to serve as Outfit boss. Accardo continued in an advisory capacity. The FBI learned that Accardo and Giancana were regularly seen together outside of Chicago in the period between 1950 and 1956. They were spotted at meetings in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami Beach.

In 1957, the year of the Apalachin, New York, convention, the Bureau learned that Accardo had turned over to Giancana his role as Chicago's representative to the Commission, the U.S. Mafia's supreme arbitration panel.

The following summer, the Senate's McClellan Committee accused Accardo of frivolously invoking the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering its questions. Accardo declined to answer basic questions about his birthplace and employment as well as more probing questions about his underworld associates and alleged involvement in mob murders. On August 18, 1958, the United States Senate unanimously held Accardo and a dozen other witnesses, who appeared before the McClellan Committee, in contempt of Congress. The Senate recommended that the Justice Department prosecute the witnesses. Along with Accardo on the list cited for contempt were Jack Cerone, Sam Battaglia, Marshall Caifano, Joseph Aiuppa and Ross Prio of Chicago and Pete Licavoli of Detroit.

Decline
Accardo was charged with federal tax fraud in April 1960, and that case came closest to putting the crime boss behind bars.

The government accused him of lying about business expense deductions for the years 1956, 1957 and 1958. He was convicted on all three counts in November 1960 and was sentenced to six years in prison. However, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found numerous errors in the case and in January 1962 ordered a new trial. Accardo was then acquitted of the tax charges in October 1962.

Giancana's mid-1960s problems with the law and flight from the U.S., pulled apparently reluctant Accardo and Paul Ricca out of their retirements for a time. The aging Accardo seemed to guide the Outfit through a government investigation of Las Vegas casino skimming operations and the sudden reappearance and 1975 murder of ex-boss Giancana.

Accardo's health became a major issue for him the 1980s. In 1984, he visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for treatment of heart and lung conditions. Shortly after returning home to Chicago, he became dizzy and suffered a head injury during a fall. His injury required a hospital stay. Despite his declining health, some believe he continued to advise Outfit bosses until his last days.

Just when his last days occurred seems to be a matter of some disagreement. While contemporary news sources and biographer William F. Roemer, Jr., clearly place his death on Wednesday, May 27, 1992, as of this writing a number of online sources (including Wikipedia and Find A Grave) insist that Accardo's death occurred five days earlier, on May 22 (a Friday). This is made more curious by the fact that a source cited for the Wikipedia death date is a May 29, 1992, Hartford Courant (Associated Press) article that states death occurred the previous Wednesday.
 

Sources:

  • "28 more public enemies named by crime board," Chicago Daily Tribune, Aug. 1, 1931, p. 5.
  • Cohen, Jerry, "U.S. grand jury summons two Mafia chieftains," Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1970, p. 19.
  • Conroy, L.N., "Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly, Committee on the Judiciary, Estes Kefauver Chairman," FBI memorandum to Mr. Rosen, file no. 62-102198-116, NARA no. 124-10347-10011, Nov. 12, 1959.
  • Daniels, Lee A., "Anthony Accardo, long a figure in mob world, dies in bed at 86," New York Times, May 29, 1992.
  • FBI memorandum to Mr. McAndrews, file no. 92-6054-2092, NARA no. 124-10287-10397, July 25, 1967.
  • Hill, Ralph R., "Anthony Joseph Accardo,..." FBI report, file no. 92-3182-79, NARA no. 124-10203-10000, May 26, 1960, p. A-6.
  • Hill, Ralph R. Jr., "Samuel M. Giancana, ..." FBI report, file no. 92-636-3, NARA no. 124-90024-10122, May 5, 1961, p. 10-11.
  • "Illinois shorts," Dixon IL Evening Telegraph, Jan. 6, 1962, p. 4.
  • "Informer is slain by Chicago gunmen," New York Times, Feb. 2, 1930, p. 11.
  • Investigation of Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, Hearings Before the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, Part 33, 85th Congress, Second Session, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1958, p. 12782-12797.
  • Kiesling, Mark, "Anthony Accardo's death closes Capone Era," Munster (IN) Times, May 28, 1992, p. 11.
  • Koziol, Ronald, and John O'Brien, "Reputed mob boss Accardo dies," Chicago Tribune, May 28, 1992, p. B1.
  • "McGurn, on trial, claims illegal arrest," Chicago Daily Tribune, June 25, 1930, p. 7.
  • "New names introduced in Zuta killing," Streator IL Daily Times-Press, Aug. 6, 1930, p. 1.
  • O'Brien, John, "Low-key sendoff for Accardo," Chicago Tribune, May 30, 1992, p. 5.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Sicilian Prince, departed Palermo, arrived New York on Feb. 25, 1904.
  • "Raid gangdom for 'slayers' of Mike Heitler," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 2, 1931, p. 1.
  • Roberts, John W. Jr., "The Criminal commission; et al Chicago Division," FBI report from Chicago office, file no. 92-6054-131, NARA no. 124-10216-10239, Dec. 21, 1962, p. 2.
  • Roemer, William F. Jr., Accardo: The Genuine Godfather, New York: Donald I. Fine, 1995.
  • "Senate, 87-0, cites 13 for contempt," New York Times, Aug. 19, 1958, p. 16.
  • Smith, Sandy, "Jury acquits Tony Accardo," Chicago Tribune, Oct. 4, 1962, p. 1.
  • Social Security Death Index, SSN 360-14-0886.
  • "Tony Accardo reputedly led Chicago mob," Hartford CT Courant, May 29, 1992, p. C10.
  • "Two more slain by gangs," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 5, 1930, p. 1.
  • "U.S. indicts 23 Capone men," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 2, 1931, p. 1.
  • Wehrwein, Austin C., "Accardo receives 6-year jail term," New York Times, Nov. 19, 1960, p. 11.
  • Yost, Newton E., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-683, NARA no. 124-10208-10406, July 22, 1964, p. 18.

08 April 2020

Going out for 'a few minutes'

Hasn't been seen since 1962

New York Daily News
On this date in 1962...

Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo, sixty-two-year-old leader in the New York-area Genovese Crime Family, disappeared on Sunday evening, April 8, 1962.

Strollo's wife Edna filed a missing person report with the local police on Thursday, April 12. She indicated that Strollo was last seen at 10 p.m. Sunday, when he left their Fort Lee, New Jersey, home with an unknown associate in a borrowed black 1961 Cadillac.

Background

Strollo
Strollo was born in Manhattan on June 14, 1899, to Italian immigrants Leon and Jennie Strollo. He grew up on Thompson Street near West Houston Street in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, an early base for what later became known as the Genovese Crime Family.

He worked as a truck driver but found his greatest success as a racketeer. As the modern New York crime families were formed in 1931, Strollo was designated a lieutenant within the organization commanded by boss Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania and his underboss Vito Genovese. Joseph Valachi, who decades later became an important underworld informant, was one of the Mafia "soldiers" assigned to Strollo's crew. Valachi instantly disliked his underworld leader. "He was conceited and a miserable person," Valachi later wrote.

Strollo married Edna Goldenberg in New York City in spring of 1932. The newlyweds lived at 12 Perry Street in Greenwich Village before moving a few blocks away to 45 Christopher Street. By the 1940s, Strollo was a powerful underworld leader in Greenwich Village. His loansharking, gambling and bookmaking rackets territory extended throughout the village and onto the Hudson River docks. He is believed to have held financial interests in cafes and night clubs in the area. In this period, Strollo and his wife moved across the river to Fort Lee, New Jersey.

New Jersey Teamsters Local 560 came under Strollo's control when he arranged for the election of Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano as local president. (Provenzano was later suspected of involvement in the disappearance of former Teamsters International President Jimmy Hoffa.)

In 1952, Strollo was in newspaper headlines when a midnight meeting he had with Jersey City Mayor John Kenny came to light. Strollo refused to testify at a New York State Crime Commission hearing about the meeting.

Strollo reportedly gained power and influence when a failed 1957 assassination attempt against crime family boss Frank Costello convinced Costello to retire and permitted Strollo's close ally Vito Genovese to take over the crime family. Genovese ran into his own troubles, however. In spring 1959, he was convicted of narcotics offenses. He was sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison.

Anthony Carfano, Janice Drake
Later that year, Strollo was suspected of involvement in the Genovese-ordered murder of Anthony "Little Augie Pisano" Carfano. Strollo and Carfano had been close friends for many years.

Carfano and a companion, Mrs. Janice Drake, dined with Strollo and others at Marino's Italian Restaurant, 716 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, on the evening of September 25, 1959. Carfano and Mrs. Drake were later found shot to death in an automobile in Queens. (When Valachi became an informant, he revealed that Carfano had been killed on instructions from Genovese. Carfano had reportedly been insubordinate following the attempt on his friend Frank Costello's life. According to Valachi, Strollo had no idea that Carfano was to be killed.)

Strollo is believed to have played a key role in convincing Joseph Valachi to surrender to the authorities after Valachi jumped bail early in 1960 to flee narcotics charges.

Thin ice

Understandably upset at his fifteen-year narcotics sentence, Genovese took an interest in determining how federal authorities were able to assemble their case against him. He may have had reason to blame Strollo.

Strollo was known to be a sponsor of Vincent Mauro, who was captured by federal agents in Spain and provided information on international drug smuggling operations. Strollo also was the longtime superior of Valachi, suspected by underworld leaders of giving information to the authorities.

While Strollo was said to have brokered a recent and momentary peace in the rebellion of the Brooklyn Gallo gangsters against Profaci Crime Family leaders, it was suspected that he had a role in inciting the Gallos.

The New York Daily News reported that Strollo had been in trouble with his underworld colleagues because of "several injudicious moves in the past eighteen months."

'A few minutes'

Strollo
As Strollo prepared to leave his home, 1015 Palisade Avenue, on the evening of April 8, his wife warned him about the weather: "You'd better put on your coat."

His response, which turned out to his final words to his wife of thirty years, was, "I'm only going to be a few minutes. Besides, I'm wearing my thermal underwear."

Edna Strollo gradually became concerned that "something awful" happened to her husband. It was not unusual for Strollo to remain out all night, but when his absence stretched into days, she consulted with his attorney and then called the police.

She could not say who her husband went off with, who had provided the Cadillac or what Strollo was wearing when he left.

Investigation

New York Police discovered that one day after Strollo's disappearance, his mistress left her Sixth Avenue Greenwich Village apartment and had not been seen for more than a week. There was some speculation that she and Strollo left the country together. But police sources told the New York Daily News that there was a "more than 50-50 chance that Tony and the lady... are dead by now."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation learned that Strollo's rackets were quickly taken over by Pasquale "Patsy Ryan" Eboli. Pasquale was the brother of Thomas Eboli, part of a ruling council over the crime family following Genovese's conviction. The council also included Gerardo Catena and Michele Miranda

A year after Strollo went missing, the FBI was secretly listening in on a conversation between two mobsters when the subject of Strollo came up. Anthony "Little Pussy" Russo told Genovese Mafioso Angelo "Gyp" DeCarlo that Ruggiero "Richie the Boot" Boiardo of New Jersey had boasted that he killed Strollo.

Conflicting information was provided to the FBI in the summer of 1965. At that time, New Jersey racketeer Harold "Kayo" Konigsberg revealed that Tommy Eboli and Gerardo Catena ordered Strollo's murder after obtaining the approval of the imprisoned Genovese. According to Konigsberg, Eboli had been trying for years to eliminate Strollo.

On the night of April 8, Konigsberg stated, "'Pepe' Sabato called Tony Bender and drove him to the parking lot of the Milestone Restaurant in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where Tommy Ryan [Eboli] and Dom 'The Sailor' [De Quarto] were waiting in a panel truck. Tommy and Dom killed Bender in the parking lot."

Konigsberg did not know where Strollo's remains were taken but expressed the belief that Strollo was buried at an upstate New York farm.

Sources:

  • "F.B.I.-taped conversation sheds light on 1962 gangland slaying of Strollo," New York Times, Jan. 8, 1970, p. 33.
  • "Pisano hurried to his death after mysterious phone call," New York Times, Oct. 2, 1959, p. 16.
  • "Sketches of gangland figures named by Valachi in Senate testimony," New York Times, Sept. 28, 1963, p. 6.
  • Andrews, Leon F. Jr., "La Causa Nostra Buffalo Division," FBI report 92-6054-296, NARA no. 124-10200-10453, June 14, 1963, p. 24-27.
  • Donnelly, Frank H., "Anthony Provenzano aka Tony Pro," FBI report 92-7195-2, NARA no. 124-10221-10186, Dec. 20, 1963, p. 6-7.
  • Durkin, Paul G., and Charles G. Donnelly, Harold Konisberg statement at Federal Correctional Institute, Danbury, CT, June 10, 1965, dictated June 15, 1965, "Harold Konigsberg," FBI report 92-1893, file no. 92-5177-161, NARA no. 124-10348-10067, Aug. 16, 1965, p. 135-137.
  • Evans, C.A., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI memorandum to Mr. Belmont, file no. 92-6054-406, NARA no. 124-10220-10111, Aug. 13, 1963, p. 9.
  • Federici, William, and Henry Lee, "Tony's mistress missing; cops: both may be dead," New York Daily News, April 17, 1962, p. 2.
  • Flynn, James P., "Crime conditions in the New York division," FBI report CR 62-9-34-692, NARA no. 124-10348-10068, Dec. 3, 1962, p. 21-22.
  • Grutzner, Charles, "Kenny admitted lie to jury on talk with pier gangster; police got $108,000 bribe bid," New York Times, Dec. 18, 1952.
  • Grutzner, Charles, "Pisano witnesses changing stories," New York Times, Aug. 24, 1963.
  • Hindes, Eugene J., "Salvatore Granello...," FBI report 92-3960-30, NARA no. 124-90066-10093, June 27, 1962, p. 44.
  • Kanter, Nathan, "Hood Tony Bender missing since Sunday, wife reports," New York Daily News, April 13, 1962, p. 5.
  • Mallon, John, and Joseph McNamara, "Valachi murder song turned over to DAs," New York Daily News, Aug. 12, 1963, p. 3.
  • New York City Birth Records, Certificate no. 22743, June 14, 1899
  • New York City Marriage Index, Certificate no. 7134, March 30, 1932.
  • New York Census of 1905, New York County, Assembly District 3, Election District 11.
  • New York State Census of 1925, Kings County, Assembly District 7, Election District 22.
  • Perlmutter, Emanuel, "New lead on Pisano slaying provided by racketeer friend," New York Times, Oct. 1, 1959, p. 30.
  • Trow's General Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and Bronx, City of New York, Vol. CXXIII, for the Year Ending August 1, 1910, New York: Trow Directory, Printing and Bookbinding, 1909, p. 1435.
  • United States Census of 1900, New York State, New York County, Enumeration District 1062.
  • United States Census of 1920, New York State, New York County, Ward 8, Assembly District 2, Enumeration District 204.
  • United States Census of 1930, New York State, New York County, Assembly District 2, Enumeration District 31-68.
  • United States Census of 1940, New York State, New York County, Assembly District 10, Enumeration District 31-884.
  • Valachi, Joseph, "The Real Thing: Second Government: The Expose and Inside Doings of Cosa Nostra," Joseph Valachi Personal Papers, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, 1964, p. 370.

25 February 2020

Death of powerful NE Pennsylvania boss

Some link Bufalino to Hoffa disappearance, 
Kennedy assassination, effort to kill Castro

On this date in 1994...

Rosario "Russell" Bufalino, longtime boss of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Mafia, departed this life on Friday afternoon, February 25, 1994, at the age of 90. He may have taken numerous underworld secrets with him. Bufalino was widely suspected of involvement in the disappearance of former Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. He also was believed by many to hold information relating to the assassination of President John Kennedy and to the CIA's efforts to remove Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.


A resident of Kingston for much of his life, Bufalino passed away at ten minutes after two in the borough's Nesbitt Memorial Hospital. The cause of death was not released. Relatives kept secret their plans for Bufalino's funeral, irritating state and federal investigators who wanted to document and film the individuals attending it.

Born October 29, 1903, at Montedoro, Sicily, Bufalino was taken to the United States as a baby with his mother Christina Bucceleri Bufalino and several siblings. His father Angelo was already living in the Pittson area of Pennsylvania. Following the deaths of his parents, Bufalino and two sisters were shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic by family members. He and one sister ended up in 1914 with an older brother in Buffalo, New York (who was close to Magaddino underboss John Montana), while the remaining sister was deported for medical reasons. As a teen, Bufalino worked as an automobile mechanic.

Bufalino married Caroline Sciandra at Buffalo in the summer of 1928. The newlyweds subsequently moved to Endicott, New York, and Pittston, Pennsylvania, before settling in Kingston. They both had relatives in the region. Bufalino became involved in the garment industry and held financial interests in the Penn Drape & Curtain Company and the Alaimo Dress Company.

This was a departure from the pattern of earlier underworld-connected Montedoresi in the Luzerne County coal country, who had become leaders both in coal mining operations and in the coalminers' labor unions. Bufalino's early roles in the regional Mafia, known as the "Men of Montedoro" because of the dominance of the Montedoresi, are uncertain.

Bufalino likely succeeded to the leadership of the Men of Montedoro Mafia following the 1949 death of John Sciandra. But he was not really noticed by law enforcement until the Apalachin convention of 1957.

Bufalino's crime family was reported to be closely aligned with the Genovese Crime Family of nearby New York City. Bufalino spent much of his time in New York and is believed to have aided Mafiosi from that area in setting themselves up in non-union garment manufacturing businesses in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Bufalino also appeared to have business interests in Florida and Cuba.

There were reports of a visit to Cuba by Bufalino in November 1951. Documented trips to the island nation in late 1955 and spring 1956 later caused serious legal problems for the crime boss because he improperly claimed U.S. citizenship upon his reentry.

Authorities were confused by crime family relationships following the 1957 Apalachin convention. Due to the proximity of convention host Joseph Barbara's Apalachin estate to Scranton, Pittston, Wilkes-Barre home territory of the Northeast Pennsylvania Mafia, state and federal investigators decided that Barbara was a regional crime boss and Bufalino was his underboss. (This was stated in the 1970 report of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission.) It now appears, however, that Barbara was a remote lieutenant for the Magaddino Crime Family based in Buffalo, New York, while Bufalino was boss of his own organization.

As federal investigators looked into Bufalino after Apalachin, they discovered documents relating to his earlier returns from Cuba. In April of 1958, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered him deported as an undesirable alien. Years of legal appeals followed.

(Some writers have insisted that Bufalino developed a close personal relationship with Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the late 1950s and worked to return Batista to power after Fidel Castro's revolution. Some connect these claims to incidents relating to Hoffa and the Kennedys. There even have been suggestions that Bufalino personally fled Cuba just ahead of Castro's advancing army at the start of 1959 and may have watched the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion from a ship off the Cuban coast. Given Bufalino's ongoing problems with the INS deportation order, these claims seem far-fetched. It would have been extremely unlikely that Bufalino would have risked setting foot outside the country in this period for any reason at all.)

Late in 1959, Bufalino was among the more than 20 Apalachin meeting attendees to be convicted of conspiring to keep the purpose of the meeting from investigating agencies. In January 1960, Bufalino and fourteen co-defendants were sentenced to serve five-year terms in prison. Others were sentenced to lesser terms. The judge permitted the defendants to remain free on bail pending their appeals. Nearly a year later, an appeals court threw out the convictions.

Bufalino remained virtually untouched by law enforcement until his later years. Near the end of 1969, he was indicted in connection with the transport of stolen televisions across state lines. He was acquitted in 1970 and complained to the press about law enforcement harassment and wiretapping. He was then charged in spring 1973 with engaging in extortion in the cigarette vending machine business. A jury in Buffalo, New York, acquitted him.

At about that time, the U.S. was poised finally to deport him to his native Italy, but Italy halted the plan, refusing to issue the paperwork necessary for his return.

Another extortion case resulted in another acquittal in 1975. In the same period, Bufalino was mentioned but not charged in connection with the disappearance and likely murder of Hoffa, who was attempting to regain power in the Teamsters union. However, in the summer of 1977, Bufalino was convicted of extortion. His first documented experience inside a prison occurred in summer 1978, when his legal appeals concluded and he became an inmate at Danbury, Connecticut, Federal Correctional Institution. He served three years of the sentence before being paroled on May 8, 1981.

During his time in prison, the crime family of Northeastern Pennsylvania was reportedly managed by Edward Sciandra (nephew of former boss John Sciandra).

Less than half a year after his release from prison - at a time when his underworld organization was regarded as the most powerful in the State of Pennsylvania - he was charged with conspiring to kill a federal witness back in 1976. He was convicted and sentenced to ten years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. He was released in May 1989, after serving six years and eight months of that term. The end of the sentence was served in the federal prison hospital at Springfield, Missouri, as Bufalino's health began to decline in 1987 and a transfer was deemed necessary.

Bufalino spent the final two years of his life in a Kingston nursing home. Following his death, management of the regional crime family fell to Edward Sciandra and former Bufalino driver and confidant William D'Elia.

Read more:

Informer - Apr 2011

INFORMER: Informer - Apr 2011

Men of Montedoro by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona / Daring 1870 Bank Robbery in Scranton / Sicilian Miners Battle Black Handers in Northeastern Pennsylvania by Thomas Hunt / Capones Reach the Promised Land by Deirdre Marie Capone / Northeast Pennsylvania Mafia Membership Chart by Bill Feather /…

Find out more on MagCloud


Sources:

  • Corbett, Steve, "Moving up in the underworld," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 29, 1994, p. 3.
  • Corbett, Steve, "The passing of a shadow," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 1, 1994, p. 3.
  • "Death of the Don: Bufalino ruled over a vast crime empire," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, March 6, 1994, p. 8.
  • "Death of the Don: Direction of Bufalino Family now remains unclear," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, March 7, 1994, p. 6.
  • "Feds want Bufalino mourners on film," Wilkes-Barre Citizens" Voice, March 1, 1994, p. 5.
  • Houlihan, Frederick T., "Russell Alfred Bufalino, aka Russell Bufalino...," FBI report, file no. 92-2839-86, NARA no. 124-10290-10333, Sept. 12, 1960.
  • Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. II - From 1938, 2013.
  • Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, "Men of Montedoro," Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement, April 2011.
  • Lynott, Jerry, "Former Pocono Record writer's book reveals a boss's power," Pocono Record, Sept. 3, 2013.
  • "Mob boss Bufalino dies," Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 4.
  • "Mob boss Russell Bufalino," Philadelphia Daily News, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 37.
  • Moldea, Dan E., "The Hoffa Wars," Playboy, November 1978.
  • Morrison, Mitch, "Mystery follows Bufalino to the grave," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, March 1, 1994, p. 2.
  • New York State Marriage Index, Buffalo, New York, certificate no. 23108, Aug. 9, 1928.
  • "Organized crime may be meeting its Waterloo," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, April 17, 1994, p. 17.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Brasile, departed Naples on Dec. 31, 1905, arrived New York on Jan. 14, 1906.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Citta di Milano, departed Naples on Dec. 2, 1903, arrived New York on Dec. 21, 1903.
  • Pennsylvania Crime Commission, Report on Organized Crime, 1970.
  • Russell A. Bufalino World War II draft registration card, Fox Hill PA, 1942.
  • "Russell Bufalino," New York Daily News, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 25.
  • "Russell Bufalino, 91, reputed Pa. mob boss," Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 28, 1994, p. C10.
  • "Russell Bufalino, alleged mob boss, dies at age 90," Hazleton Standard Speaker, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 30.
  • "Russell Bufalino, reputed Pennsylvania crime boss," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 28, 1994, p. 16.
  • SAC Philadelphia, "Russell A. Bufalino, aka, Neutrality Matter," FBI Airtel, file no. 2-1664-1, NARA no. 124-10293-10378, March 3, 1961.
  • Scholz, Frank, "Reputed mob boss Bufalino, 91, dies," Scranton Sunday Times, Feb. 27, 1994, p. 3.
  • Shurmaitis, Dawn, "Just a good fella?," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, April 17, 1994, p. 1.
  • Shurmaitis, Dawn, and Robert Sitten, "Russell Bufalino, 'don of dons,' dies," Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Feb. 26, 1994, p. 1.
  • Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 168-12-7767, death date Feb. 25, 1994, claim date July 26, 1968.
  • Social Security Death Index, 162-12-7767, Feb. 25, 1994, Ancestry.com.
  • U.S. Department of Labor Immigration Service file on Cristina Bufalino, 1914.

24 February 2020

Centenarian mobster 'Sonny' Franzese passes

Colombo Crime Family big shot John "Sonny" Franzese died Sunday, February 23, 2020, at the age of 103, according to published reports. Family sources indicated that Franzese, a longtime resident of the Long Island Village of Roslyn, died following a brief illness.

(While it appears he was at least 100 at the time of his death, Franzese's age has been inconsistently reported over the years. He was widely reported to be forty-seven when indicted in March 1966, placing his birth in 1918-1919. Some government files point to February 1919 as the date of his birth. That birth timing was confirmed when he was arrested as a parole violator in spring 1986 at the stated age of 67. However, more recent reports have added a couple of years. The age of 103 noted in his obits puts his birth in 1916-1917. Other government files support that timing.)

The Neapolitan Franzese reportedly began his underworld career as an enforcer and hit man. Federal authorities believe he was introduced to organized crime through his father, Carmine. "Sonny" Franzese's power and influence were greatest in the 1960s, when as crime family lieutenant, he supervised Colombo rackets on Long Island and invested in "adult" night spots, Times Square peep shows and massage parlors, recording companies and pornographic movies.

Law enforcement began catching up with Franzese in the middle of that decade. He was indicted in March 1966 for acting as an enforcer for a lucrative Manhattan bookmaking ring, in the following month for leading a gang responsible for bank robberies across the U.S. and in October of the same year in connection with the 1964 murder of Ernest "the Hawk" Rupolo. Franzese once told Newsday that he felt the collection of charges in that period were due to a "conspiracy to get me."

Prosecutors got him only on the bank robbery conspiracy charge. For that federal offense, in April 1967 he was sentenced to up to fifty years in prison and fined $20,000. Franzese always insisted that he was innocent. He viewed the cases against him and the long prison sentence as government attempts to convince him to provide evidence against his underworld associates. He boasted of his commitment to the Mafia code of silence.

"They wanted me to roll all the time," Franzese recalled for an interview with Newsday. "I couldn't do that, because it's my principle. Jesus suffered; He didn't squeal on nobody."

Franzese remained free on $150,000 bail as his legal appeals in the bank robbery case were processed. (His attorneys argued that evidence against him had been obtained through the use of illegal electronic surveillance in the kitchen of his Roslyn home.) The appeals were unsuccessful, and he began serving his sentence on March 26, 1970, just three days before the Easter holiday. He was released on parole for the first time in 1978, but was sent back to prison on five different occasions for violating parole.

Franzese, then in his nineties, was convicted in 2010 of extorting New York businesses. He was sentenced to serve eight years in prison. He was last released from prison in June 2017.

In recent years, Franzese lived in a nursing home, needed a wheelchair to get around due to a broken hip and reportedly was fitted with a heart pacemaker and hearing aids.


Sources:

  • Brown, Lee, "102-year-old mobster: 'I never hurt nobody that was innocent," New York Post, nypost.com, March 27, 2019.
  • Burke, Cathy, "Colombo underboss Sonny Franzese looks back on 102 years with no regrets, and a boast that he's never been a rat," New York Post, nypost.com, March 27, 2019.
  • "Cosa Nostran held as robberies brain," Plainfield NJ Courier-News, April 13, 1966, p. 7.
  • "Crime figure seized on L.I.; Parole violations are cited," New York Times, April 29, 1986, p. 36.
  • Everett, Arthur, "Mob tightening grip on pornography," Vineland NJ Times Journal, Dec. 14, 1972, p. 21.
  • Failla, Zak, "Man who led Colombo Family's Long Island rackets dies," Suffolk Daily Voice, dailyvoice.com, Feb. 24, 2020.
  • "Franzese loses bid to upset verdict," New York Times, March 27, 1970, p. 37.
  • Kirkman, Edward, and Arthur Mulligan, "Put halter on big bookie 'muscle man," New York Daily News, March 25, 1966, p. 2.
  • Peddie, Sandra, "John 'Sonny" Franzese dead: Longtime Colombo underboss was 103, family says," Newsday, newsday.com, Feb. 24, 2020.
  • Pugh, Thomas, William Federici and Richard Henry, "Indict 5 Cosa hoods in killing of 6th," New York Daily News, Oct. 4, 1966, p. 3.
  • Sherman, William, "Mafia declares war, but porn king survives," New York Daily News, Dec. 13, 1972, p. 5. 
  • Walsh, Robert, "Franzese gets new suit; it's a jailstriper," New York Daily News, March 27, 1970, p. 24. 
  • Walsh, Robert, and Henry Lee, "Tag 9 guys & a gal in bank holdups, Inc.," New York Daily News, April 13, 1966, p. 3.

15 February 2020

Shotgun takes out Chicago's 'Scourge'

On this date in 1926...

Shotgun blasts on the evening of February 15, 1926, ended the underworld career of well-connected Chicago Mafioso Orazio Tropea.

Orazio Tropea (Chicago Daily Tribune)

Witnesses saw Tropea step off an eastbound streetcar at the corner of Taylor and Halsted Streets shortly after nine o'clock that night. As he walked east across Halsted, an automobile advanced on him from behind and nearly struck him. Tropea yelled angrily at the driver. The car stopped next to him, and a man emerged from it and raised a shotgun to Tropea's head. The Mafioso had just time enough to shout and raise his arms before the first barrel of the shotgun was discharged. The gunman then fired the second barrel.

Tropea absorbed much of the lead, but some fragments scattered, breaking through the windows of nearby businesses and wounding a bystander.

No shortage of suspects 
After spending some time in New York City and Buffalo, Tropea, known in underworld circles as "the Scourge," became a lieutenant in the Genna gang of Chicago in the early 1920s. He organized extortion rackets and extracted tribute payments from local businessmen.

In a relatively short time, Tropea accumulated an imposing list of enemies. Business owners resented his collection efforts. Adversaries of the "Terrible Gennas" had good reason to fear and hate him. Following the mid-1920s murders of brothers Angelo and Michael Genna, Genna relatives and the new underworld regime of Joseph Aiello quickly joined the enemies list.

Tropea's secret betrayal of the Genna clan and his allegiance to a breakaway Mafia faction became apparent following the January 1926 murder of Genna in-law Henry Spingola. Tropea and Spingola were playing cards at Amato's Restaurant on Halsted Street. Tropea stepped briefly away from the game as it was wrapping up. It was said that he either made a telephone call or raised a lighted match in front of a street-facing window. Spingola was then shot to death as he got into his car.

In February, Tropea was assigned with collecting money for the legal defense of Mafia gunmen John Scalisi and Albert Anselmi, charged in the shooting deaths of two Chicago detectives. That he was skimming from the collections could be deduced from his comfortable living arrangements at the Congress Hotel. And that, too, likely added significantly to his enemies list.

Tropea's personal life did not improve his popularity. With a wife and child in Catania, Sicily, Tropea married another woman and had another child while in Buffalo. After moving on to Chicago, he began a new relationship with a local teenager and sought to marry her as well (the wife in Sicily had reportedly died by this time, but he was still married to the woman in Buffalo). Her parents refused to permit the marriage, but Tropea continued seeing the girl.

Any of the individuals betrayed, hurt or terrorized by Tropea could have played a role in his murder.

Connections
Investigators discovered that Tropea had been carrying almost one thousand dollars in cash and wearing a large diamond ring when he was shot. They also learned that he was preparing to leave the city for a vacation in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Police also recovered Tropea's small addressbook. It included a number of personal and business contacts from the Chicago area, including Mafioso Antonio Lombardo and members of the Aiello family. It also had information for underworld figures in Buffalo, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Brooklyn.

Read more about Tropea's addressbook on Mafiahistory.us.

Divisions within the Chicago Mafia came to the attention of investigators. They learned that gunmen initially brought into Chicago to act as Genna enforcers had decided to break away. The resulting factional struggle resulted in the killings of several Gennas, "Samoots" Amatuna and others.

One mourner
Following the Tropea murder, according to the press, no one in the Chicago area had a single good word to say about "the Scourge." Many in the Italian-American community expressed relief at his passing.

While his mother-in-law in Buffalo considered having the body brought to western New York for burial, that plan seems to have been quickly abandoned. Only two visitors went to the funeral home: his wife and his young girlfriend.

Arrow shows Tropea as
pallbearer for Angelo Genna
(Chicago Daily Tribune)

Tropea was buried on February 20. There was no religious service, none of the gaudy trappings of Chicago gangland funerals (as seen in the recent funeral of Angelo Genna, for whom Tropea served as pallbearer). Only the girlfriend went to the gravesite for his burial. As Tropea's city-funded casket was placed there, she fell onto it and wept.

Killings continue
The murder of Tropea did not bring an end to the warfare in Chicago's Sicilian underworld.

Baldelli (left) and Bascone

One day after Tropea was buried, a friend of his was found dead in a field in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn. Vito Bascone had been shot in the head. It looked as though his body had been thrown from a passing automobile. Police knew that he had quarreled with the Spingola family and concluded that Bascone's murder was related to the ambush of Henry Spingola.


Three days after that, the body of Edward "the Eagle" Baldelli was found in a Chicago alley. Baldelli had been severely beaten and then shot twice through the head. Police believed that the body had been driven to the alley and left there to be discovered. In Baldelli's possession, police found a number of business cards, including one for a business partner of Orazio Tropea.

See also:

Sources:
  • "Certificate of identification," photograph, Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 38.
  • "Deportation or death seen as gangster fate," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 2.
  • "Feudists slay Sicilian ally of Genna gang," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Fight to free city of thugs given impetus," Belvidere Daily Republican, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Forty-first victim of gang war," Buffalo Evening Times, Feb. 24, 1926, p. 15.
  • "Gennas' friend slain; spurs war on aliens," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 22, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Latest slaying occurs during lull of one day in drive against gunmen," Rock Island IL Argus, Feb. 24, 1926, p. 1.
  • "List of names found," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 2.
  • "One dead in gang fight," DeKalb IL Daily Chronicle, Feb. 16, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Orazio the 'Scourge' buried without friends or clergy," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 21, 1926, p. 4.
  • "Parents weep over clewless Mafia murder," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 25, 1926, p. 4.
  • "Police raid Mafia; get 121," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 23, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Raiders find old haunts of gunmen dark," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 25, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Rival loves weep for Orazio but his real widow is sought," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.
  • "Say man killed in Chicago son-in-law of Buffalo woman," Buffalo Daily Courier, Feb. 17, 1926, p. 16.
  • "Sicilian gang kills again," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 22, 1926, p. 1.
  • "Son-in-law is killed by gang in Chicago row," Buffalo Morning Express, Feb. 17, 1926.
  • "Trace Sicilian killers in fight for deportation," Chicago Daily Tribune, Feb. 18, 1926, p. 3.

03 February 2020

'Joe Baker' gunned down on Belmont Ave.

On this date in 1931:

Mafia gunmen working for Castellammarese insurrection leader Salvatore Maranzano on February 3, 1931, ambushed Joseph "Joe the Baker" Catania in the Bronx. A key figure in the administration of boss of bosses Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, Catania was gunned down in front of a candy store at 2373 Belmont Avenue. He was struck by slugs in the head, neck and upper body. He was rushed to Fordham Hospital, where he died the following morning.

Catania
The Mafia's Castellammarese War had been raging for months. The devastating loss of Catania occurred at a time when Masseria was insisting that his loyalists disarm to avoid provoking police. Convinced that the disarmament strategy would cause them to quickly follow Catania to the grave, Masseria's lieutenants began plotting his assassination.

Joseph Catania, twenty-eight,* was a nephew of Masseria group leader Ciro "the Artichoke King" Terranova. The married father of two children, Catania lived at 2319 Belmont Avenue, about two blocks from the scene of his murder. He was known as "Joe the Baker" or "Joe Baker" because of his involvement in the bakery business since childhood.

Catania reportedly was well liked by New York Mafiosi, but somehow managed to deeply offend Maranzano. The rebel leader felt that Catania must be killed before the end of the war. Maranzano sent hit teams to known Catania hangouts in the neighborhood of Arthur Avenue and 187th Street. (The Catania family had a bakery at 2389 Arthur Avenue in this period and years earlier lived in an apartment above it. The address is now home to an Italian restaurant and apartments.) These teams were unable to locate their target.

Maranzano next negotiated with Frank Scalise of the Bronx, a recent convert to the rebel cause, to eliminate the Baker. After two weeks, Maranzano gave up hope of Scalise taking care of things. The Castellammarese leader stationed a team, including Salvatore "Sally" Shillitani, Nick Capuzzi, Joseph Valachi and Maranzano's top assassin Sebastiano "Buster" Domingo, in a top-floor apartment across narrow Belmont Avenue from an office known to be used by Catania. The office was just a two-minute walk from Catania's apartment but was in a busier and more commercial setting.

Valachi later wrote about the assignment in his autobiography, The Real Thing, recalling that he personally liked Catania but hid that fact from his boss Maranzano.

New York Times
From the apartment windows, the team was able to spot and track Catania. They watched him go through the same routine at about nine o'clock every morning except Sunday - he appeared at the office, picked up some money, then came out and quickly walked a short distance to the corner, rounded the corner and disappeared. Each morning for weeks, Domingo prepared to take a shot at Catania as he reached the corner, but Domingo was too high over the street and Catania visible for too short a time to do so reliably.

Valachi became aware that a first-floor apartment in the building was vacant. He suggested that the team burst into that apartment one morning and target Catania from its windows. Maranzano approved the plan.

At eight o'clock on the morning of February 3, 1931, Valachi used burglar tools to open the door of the first-floor apartment, and the team members entered with guns drawn. Three painters were at work inside. When they saw the gangsters, they believed they were being held up and offered their money.

Valachi recalled, "I told them that we did not want their money, just go on painting the way you were doing and everyone will be happy and no one will bother you." The painters, whose names and home addresses were released to the press, later told the police that the gangsters entered with their faces masked with black scarves.

The other team members set up, but Valachi claimed that it was his job to go outside and start the getaway car. (With this claim, Valachi removed himself from the actual shooting of Catania. Interestingly, Valachi did not mention getting the car ready at any of the other times that Domingo had Catania in his sights.) In addition to putting six slugs in Catania, the shooters put numerous holes in the front windows of the candy store and an adjacent butcher shop.

Valachi estimated that he was in the car less than a minute when his associates arrived there. He did not recall whether he heard the gunshots. During their escape, Shillitani told him about the shooting:

He [Shillitani] felt bad because Joe Baker came out of the office and as he reached the corner his wife met him and she handed him something and they kissed and he went the other way and the wife just stayed there and was watching him go when Buster had to shoot... Solly said that he saw the dust come out of Joe's coat as the bullets hit him in the back.

A crowd gathered around the fallen Catania. One of the first to him was taxi driver Daniel Stefano. Catania was loaded into Stefano's cab and driven to Fordham Hospital. The Baker died of his wounds at ten minutes to eight the next morning.

Police questioned Daniel Stefano, Catania friend Daniel Iamascia and Catania's wife Louisa, but could not figure out the killing.

Catania (right) and underworld associates John Savino (left) and Daniel Iamascia

The New York underworld gave Catania a magnificent send-off. Press reports estimated that his funeral cost as much as $35,000, with about $10,000 said to have been invested in his coffin. (The coffin was bronze, according to the New York Times. The New York Daily News reported that it was silver.)

News from Catania's wake reached Maranzano through his spies: Ciro Terranova reportedly stood by the coffin, placed one hand on it and the other hand high in the air, and swore to avenge the killing of his nephew.

"When the old man [Maranzano] heard about this," Valachi recalled, "he sent someone at the funeral parlor to see if there was a chance to get [Terranova] at the wake. Naturally it was a spy but word came that it was impossible to do anything."

The funeral procession on February 7 was watched by about 10,000 people. It reportedly took forty cars to carry the floral offerings of friends, family and associates. Dozens of mounted and foot police officers kept order along the route and dozens of plain clothes detectives mingled in the crowd.

A Roman Catholic Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated by three priests at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, about a block from the scene of the murder. Police frisked known crime figures, including Terranova, as they entered the church.

After the services, Catania's remains were placed temporarily in a crypt at Woodlawn Cemetery while a mausoleum was constructed at St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.


* Different records point to different birthdates for Joseph Catania, ranging from March 1900 to November 1902, but the most reliable available sources point to between September 29, 1902, and October 1, 1902.

Sources:
  • "10,000 at funeral of 'Joe the Baker,'" New York Times, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 30.
  • "Bail runner shot in street ambush," New York Times, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 11.
  • Birth records of Palermo, Italy, vol. 455, no. 108.
  • "Gang shots fatal to Joe the Baker," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 2.
  • "'Joe the Baker' dies of wounds," Brooklyn Standard Union, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Machine gun pair in Bronx riddle thug," New York Daily News, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 38.
  • Miley, Jack, "$35,000 funeral puts thug in last spot," New York Daily News, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 6.
  • New York State Census of 1905, New York County, Assembly District 32, Election District Special no. 3.
  • New York State Census of 1915, New York County, Assembly District 28, Election District 2.
  • New York State Census of 1925, Bronx County, Assembly District 7, Election District 45.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Trojan Prince, departed Palermo, Sicily, on April 15, 1903, arrived New York on May 1, 1903.
  • United States Census of 1910, New York State, New York County, Ward 12, Enumeration District 341.
  • United States Census of 1920, New York State, Bronx County, Assembly District 4, Enumeration District 393.
  • United States Census of 1930, New York State, Bronx County, Enumeration District 3-552.
  • Valachi, Joseph, The Real Thing - Second Government: The Expose and Inside Doings of Cosa Nostra by Joseph Valachi, Member Since 1930, unpublished manuscript, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, p. 323-328.
  • Van`t Riet, Lennert, David Critchley and Steve Turner, "Gunmen of the Castellammarese War - Part 5: A lifetime of tangling with the law: Salvatore 'Sally Shields' Shillitani," Informer: The History of American Crime and Law Enforcement, April 2013.
  • World War I Draft Registration Card, serial no. 3655, order no. 736, Local Board 17, New York City, Sept. 19, 1918.

02 February 2020

'Lucky' out of prison, held at Ellis Island

Authorities prepare to deport NY Mafia boss

On this date in 1946:

New York Mafia boss Salvatore "Charlie Lucky Luciano" Lucania, age forty-eight, was removed from temporary custody at Sing Sing Prison on February 2, 1946, and placed in a holding area at Ellis Island, as authorities prepared to deport him to his native Italy.

Lucania
Lucania, leader of a powerful crime family (later known as the Genovese Family) and one of the architects of the Mafia's national Commission, was convicted about nine and a half years earlier on sixty-two counts of compulsory prostitution. On June 18, 1936, he was sentenced to a prison term of thirty to fifty years.

The case that put Lucania behind bars was handled by then-Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey also was responsible for Lucania's release. Entering the final year of his first term as New York governor, Dewey on January 3, 1946, commuted the remainder of Lucania's sentence on the condition that he be deported to Italy.

The governor issued a statement relating to the commutation, which revealed that the imprisoned Lucania rendered some sort of assistance to the U.S. military during World War II:

Luciano is deportable to Italy. He was a leader of a syndicate which supervised and gave orders relating to the operation of a vice combine which "booked" women for houses of prostitution and provided other service incidental to the operation of houses of prostitution. He has previously been convicted of the possession of drugs. Upon the entry of the United States into the war, Luciano's aid was sought by the armed services in inducing others to provide information concerning possible enemy attack. It appears that he cooperated in such effort, though the actual value of the information provided is not clear. His record in prison is reported as wholly satisfactory.

Wild stories quickly grew out of the news of Lucania's aid to the military. Just a few days after Dewey's statement, a New York Daily News entertainment page featured an article that claimed Lucania was single-handedly responsible for saving the lives of countless American servicemen. The article, by Robert Sylvester, quoted an unnamed underworld source:

Remember the Sicily campaign was one of the easiest of the war? Well, Charley made it that way. He turned over a whole Cloak & Dagger Crew which worked before and during the invasion. You can thank Charley Lucky for saving thousands and thousands of American lives.

Dewey
Some questioned Dewey's motivation for commuting Lucania's sentence. (The state administration conducted an investigation of its own decision-making.) Some years later, it was suggested that Lucania had obtained damaging information against Dewey. An autobiography of narcotics agent Sal Vizzini claimed that, while in exile, Lucania boasted about that: "I had a whole damned battery of lawyers. I told them I didn't care what it cost but I wanted them to dig into Dewey's background. They came up with a pile of information on him that might have put his ass in the can..."

SIx days after Governor Dewey's sentence commutation, Lucania was transfered from Great Meadow State Prison in the upstate New York hamlet of Comstock (just east of Lake George) to Sing Sing Prison at Ossining, about thirty miles from New York City.

The Board of Parole approved Lucania's release for the purpose of deportation on February 2. Immigration and Naturalization agents took custody of him on that date and brought him to the federal immigration facility at Ellis Island. While at Ellis Island, he was permitted to visit briefly with underworld associates Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello and Michael Lascari and with attorney Moses Polakoff.

His stay on the island lasted less than a week. He was taken to Brooklyn and put aboard the S.S. Laura Keene at Pier 7 of the Bush Terminal on February 8. The ship's departure was delayed by bad weather, but she sailed for Italy on February 10, reaching Naples seventeen days later.

Read the details of Lucania's imprisonment and release:
"When 'Lucky' was locked up," The American Mafia, mafiahistory.us

Sources:
  • Abrams, Norma, "Poor Italy: Defeat and now, Luciano!" New York Daily News, Feb. 9, 1946, p. 3.
  • "Charles Luciano, Anti-Racketeering," translations of Italian language articles appearing in the Jan. 11, Jan. 18 and Jan. 25, 1959, issues of L'Europeo magazine, FBI memo, Feb. 18, 1959.
  • Conroy, E.E., FBI teletype, file no. 39-2141-5, Feb. 26, 1946.
  • Conroy, E.E., FBI teletype, file no. 39-2141-6, Feb. 27, 1946.
  • Conroy, E.E., Letter to Mr. Hoover, Charles Luciano FBI file, no. 39-2141-8, March 1, 1946.
  • "Dewey commutes Luciano sentence," New York Times, Jan. 4, 1946, p. 25.
  • "A French payment," editorial, Brooklyn Citizen, Jan. 5, 1942, p. 4.
  • Herlands, William B., Report of the Commissioner of Investigation to Governor Thomas E. Dewey, Sept. 17, 1954.
  • Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee), U.S. Senate, 81st Congress 2nd Session and 82nd Congress 1st Session, Part 7, Meyer Lansky testimony of Feb. 14, 1951, p. 606-607.
  • "'Lucky' Luciano to be paroled and deported," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 3, 1946, p. 1.
  • Rosen, A., "Charles 'Lucky' Luciano," FBI memorandum to E.A. Tamm, file no. 39-2141-39, May 17, 1946.
  • "Salvatore Lucania...," FBI report NY 62-8768, file no. 39-2141-9, May 5, 1946.
  • Sylvester, Robert, "A B'way hoodlum lives a melodrama nobody would write," New York Daily News, Jan. 8, 1946, p. 27.
  • Vizzini, Sal, with Oscar Fraley and Marshall Smith, Vizzini: The Story of America's No, 1 Undercover Narcotics Agent, New York: Pinnacle, 1972, p. 77.

19 January 2020

St. Louis's Pillow Gang gets their quirky name

Ninety-two years ago tonight, a triple shooting in St. Louis's Dogtown neighborhood gave one of the city's three Mafia factions one of the more quirky nicknames in American criminal history. The main target of the attack, a powerful mafiùsu named Charlie Fresina, was struck by a .45 caliber submachine gun bullet in his lower hip. In the preceding weeks as he recovered, Fresina used a pillow to cushion his rear end when he sat down, leading sarcastic St. Louis police to dub his crew "The Pillow Gang."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Mafia dicìna (crew) that would eventually be known as the "Pillow Gang" got its start in the early 1910s as a small-time Black Hand extortion ring run by Pasquale Santino, a Sicilian immigrant who used threatening letters to separate wealthy Italian businessmen from their money. After a series of arrests, Santino left St. Louis briefly and worked as a railroad foreman in eastern Ohio. After returning to town around the start of Prohibition, Santino began putting a crew of tough Sicilian mobsters together; like Pasquale himself, most of them were from the southern province of Girgenti (modern-day Agrigento). The one exception was Charlie Fresina.

Born Carmelo Frisina in 1892 in Castiglione di Sicilia, a small town located in the shadow of northeastern Sicily's Mount Etna, he immigrated to America at the age of sixteen. Frisina worked his way up from a vegetable peddler to a steamship agent and from there into the local Mafia. As he and the Santino crew began making big money in the illegal alcohol business, Frisina anglicized his name to Charles Fresina in order to shield his wife and children from his criminality. He would also later use the alias of "Freese" (pronounced Free-zee). Fresina was brilliant and industrious, quickly working his way into the number-two position in Santino's dicìna. By the early 1920s, the Santino crew had joined forces with the so-called "Green Ones," a crew of ex-Black Handers from western Palermo province led by Vito Giannola and Alfonse Palazzolo, to wrench control of St. Louis's Mafia family away from incumbent boss Dominick Giambrone.

In the aftermath of their victory, the Green Ones appropriated leadership of the family for themselves, with Giannola becoming càpu (boss) and Palazzolo suttacàpu (underboss). Their actions immediately created tension with the Santino crew. Also now added to the mix was a bootlegging gang headed by the Russo brothers, who were known as the "American Boys" because they were all native-born. While the St. Louis mob family had a traditional pyramidal leadership structure, the three different factions operated with a degree of autonomy not seen in other American Mafia groups of the era. Indeed, this peculiar arrangement led to constant bickering amongst the crew's leaders. Their organization as a whole suffered a big black eye in the view of other Mafia bosses around the country after losing a violent gang war to the South City-based Cuckoo Gang in 1926; Vito Giannola and the rest of the family's leaders were forced to give humiliating reparations to the Cuckoos as a condition of peace.

Their gangland defeat resulted in increased inter-family squabbling, as blame was shoved from faction to faction. The St. Louis Mafia inevitably devolved into civil war in the late summer of 1927 after two key members of the Russo Gang, Anthony "Shorty" Russo and Vincent Spicuzza, were lured to Chicago and killed by a Green Ones hit squad led by Alfonse Palazzolo. The Santino crew joined forces with the Russos to fight the Green Ones. Pasquale Santino was instrumental in luring Palazzolo to his demise at the hands of the Russos on Tenth Street, but he himself would die on November 17 after being shot in a grocery company office at Seventh and Carr streets. Police believed that he was killed by a Mafia assassin brought in from Chicago by the Green Ones specifically to do the deed.

Pasquale Santino (NARA)

The murders, nearly a dozen in all, continued throughout the fall. Three days after Christmas, two members of the Russo Gang caught Vito Giannola at his girlfriend's North City house, chased him into an attic crawlspace, and proceeded to empty a Thompson submachine gun into St. Louis's Mafia boss. Giannola's dramatic assassination momentarily put leadership of the family up for grabs. What follows is an excerpt from my 2010 book Gangs of St. Louis;


At the beginning of 1928, the Sicilian underworld was in a state of flux. The Russo Gang and its allies were waxing victorious after their decisive strike against the Greens. Fully aware that the war wasn't over yet, they stayed vigilant but were puzzled as the days rolled by with no retaliatory strikes from the opposition.

The Green Ones held a conference soon after Vito Giannola's funeral. John Giannola stepped down from his position in the crew, either by choice or with some persuasion. At this meeting, twenty-six-year-old Frank Agrusa was dubbed the new boss. Having spent many years under Vito's tutelage, Agrusa was a perfect choice. Learning from his predecessor's mistakes, Frankie knew that low profile was the way to go. While Vito liked to swagger down the street and let everyone know he was a gangster, Agrusa was the exact opposite. Frankie's new right-hand man was his longtime friend and partner Vito Impastato. Advising the new boss would be Tony Fasulo, who had taken Ben Amato's place as consigliere after Pasquale Santino's murder. Dominick Italiano replaced John Giannola as the Green Ones' East Side liquor distributor.

Despite these leadership changes, the Green Ones were depleted and demoralized. Most observers were unsure if they could prevail in a protracted shooting war, especially now that the deadly Tommy gun had been added to the mix. For the time being, they seemed to be out of the fight. Machiavellian twists and turns are at the core of any Mafia war, and the St. Louis strife was no different. The deception and double-crossing is limitless. While Charlie Fresina was ostensibly allied with the Russo Gang, he was going behind its back and extorting wealthy merchants connected to the Russos. When Jimmy Russo got word of Fresina's shenanigans, he promptly began planning his murder.

St. Louis gangster Jimmy Russo.


On the night of January 19, 1928, Fresina visited the Dogtown home of Charles Spicuzza at 6129 Clayton Avenue to exact a heavy tribute. The gang boss was backed up by Dominick Cataldo and Tony DiTrapani; the latter packed a sawed-off .12 gauge autoloader. A cousin of the late Vincent Spicuzza, Charles worked as the manager of the M. Longo Fruit Company on Commission Row, the store formerly owned by Charles Palmisano. While his wife and four children waited quietly in other parts of the house, Spicuzza talked with his visitors in the parlor and eventually gave Fresina over $1,000 cash.

Charles Spicuzza's home at 6129 Clayton Avenue as pictured in the St. Louis Star

A little after 10:00 p.m., the three men exited the front door and were just starting down the stairs when they noticed a strange Studebaker sedan at the curb. Even stranger was the fact that two men appeared to be sitting in their Chrysler sedan. One of the Santinos blurted, "Someone's in our car." Since the house sat high above the street, Fresina and his men couldn't clearly see the faces of the strangers. The mob boss immediately grabbed Spicuzza and forced him to walk down to the street to find out just who these fellows were.

The fruit merchant slowly walked down his steep steps with the Santinos trailing far behind him. When Spicuzza got close enough to recognize the familiar faces inside the Chrysler, he immediately broke right and ran for cover. As soon as he was clear, a fusillade of shotgun and submachine-gun fire erupted from the Chrysler. Fresina instantly turned to go back inside the house, only to be shot through the lower hip by a machine-gun round. DiTrapani was struck in the abdomen by the same stream of bullets (a slug chipped away the handle of a .38 revolver stuck in his belt). Tony spun around, stumbled inside the foyer and fell facedown on top of his unfired shotgun. Cataldo tried to follow Spicuzza but was hit by a .45 caliber bullet in his stomach.

The machine-gunner then exited the Chrysler and dashed up the stairs onto the porch. After strafing the fallen DiTrapani with a quick burst, he briefly scanned the house for any sign of Fresina. The mob boss suddenly popped around the corner of the living room wall and turned loose with a pistol. The machine-gunner briefly returned Fresina's fire and then, with his weapon either empty or jammed, quickly retreated down the steps. Charlie hobbled onto the porch and emptied his gun at his fleeing assailants, scoring a few hits on the parked Chrysler. Nevertheless, the killers made a successful getaway.

Police found Tony DiTrapani dead at the scene and Dominick Cataldo groaning in pain from a wound that soon proved fatal. Charlie Fresina was talking on the telephone in Sicilian when the cops arrived. The gangster stopped in mid-sentence and hung up, proclaiming that he didn't know who shot him. Charlie then went to the bathroom to wash him wound. Charles Spicuzza denied that he was being extorted, saying that he and Fresina had met to discuss the sale of some apples. Police initially suspected that the Green Ones were responsible; it wasn't until much later that they discovered that the true culprits were the Russo Gang. Now, all three Mafia factions were at war with one another.

Carmelo Frisina in a formal portrait taken not long after the shooting. Visible on the lower right side of the photo is the corner of the pillow in question. 

Postscript

Charlie Fresina eventually recovered from his wound and resumed his place at the head of the "Pillow Gang." Fresina often held court with his men at a Central West End restaurant at 8 South Sarah Street run by Armando Pacini. The mob boss would make headlines in August 1929 after firing a shotgun at federal agents who were in the process of raiding his Semple Avenue home. A year later, Fresina would be convicted of assault with intent to kill and sentenced to prison time. Just before he was due to head to jail, on May 8, 1931, Fresina was found shot to death behind the wheel of his car in an isolated forested area outside of Edwardsville, Illinois.

Dominick Cataldo and Tony DiTrapani were buried side-by-side in St. Louis's Calvary Cemetery.

Jimmy Russo continued his attempts to avenge the murder of his younger brother Shorty. Six months after the Dogtown ambush, Russo was lured to a meeting with the ostensibly neutral Cuckoo Gang in a disused chicken yard at Plymouth and Sutter avenues in what is now Wellston, Missouri. The Cuckoos sprung a ferocious trap and shot Russo and Mike Longo to death. Their companion, Jack Griffin, was wounded six times but managed to survive the attack.

Charles Spicuzza was reportedly inducted into the St. Louis family and worked as a bail bondsman for a number of years. Police questioned him after the May 1946 murder of Alma Ahlheim, who was reportedly Spicuzza's girlfriend; the mobster was apparently upset that she was seeing other men behind his back. No charges were filed. Spicuzza died of natural causes on January 19, 1978, the fiftieth anniversary of the shooting which gave the Pillow Gang its name.

Sources 

Waugh, Daniel. Gangs of St. Louis: Men of Respect. The History Press. 2010.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 20, 1928, May 17, 1946, January 22, 1978.

St. Louis Star, January 20, 1928.