Showing posts with label Morello. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Morello. Show all posts

21 October 2019

NYC Barrel Murder suspect killed in Pennsylvania

On this date in 1905...


A recent arrival to the mining community of Browntown, in Pennsylvania's Pittston Township, Luciano Parrino quickly became a successful business owner. Immediately following his October 21, 1905, shooting death, authorities discovered that he was a well connected underworld figure and had been the prime suspect in the spring 1903 Barrel Murder in New York City...


07 May 2019

Chicago fatal shooting no surprise to U.S. agents

Relatives, phony-money gang may have had grudges against Zagone

On this date in 1909:

Decatur Daily Review
Mariano Zagone, wealthy cigar manufacturer and leader in the Sicilian Mafia of Chicago, was shot and mortally wounded on the evening of May 7, 1909, at his son-in-law's Gault Court saloon. The shooting was not a surprise to some U.S. officials, who knew six years earlier that Zagone was to be put "on the spot."

Chicago Police arrived at the saloon, 154 Gault Court, about seven o'clock, to find Zagone unconscious and bleeding on the sidewalk outside. He had been shot through the temple. Police found a fully loaded revolver beneath him. Zagone was taken to Policlinic Hospital, a few blocks away at 219 West Chicago Avenue.
(Note: Gault Court ran between Oak Street and W. Chicago Avenue. It became Cambridge Avenue. One account placed the saloon at 134 Gault Court.)

Brothers Joseph and Carmelo Nicolosi, owners of the saloon, were taken into custody, though they claimed to know nothing of the shooting. Joseph Nicolosi, married to the daughter of Zagone's wife, told police he was speaking with a saloon patron at the bar when a gunshot was heard, rushed outside and found Zagone wounded on the sidewalk.

Chicago Tribune
Chicago detectives searched the saloon and found fresh blood spots near a chair by a cigar case. In the rear of the saloon, they found a blood-covered towel and surmised that it had been used to clean up a good deal of additional blood that had been spilled near the chair. Nicolosi said he did not know anything about the blood. Detectives decided that Zagone had been sitting inside the saloon when shot and then had been dragged out to the sidewalk.

Mrs. Biaggia "Bessie" Zagone was questioned by police. She had been nearby, visiting with her daughter Laura at Gault Court, when Zagone was shot. Detectives wanted to know if her husband had received any threatening letters from "Black Hand" extortionists. Bessie was allowed to return home after providing police with a statement:

"My husband has been shot at by someone four times in the last two years. The first time and tonight were the only times he was wounded. The first time he was shot in the back while entering the house at night and a short time after he was able to leave his bed and sit up in a chair a shot was fired from the street through a window at him. This missed my husband, but wounded my son Vincenzo in the left leg and arm as he lay in bed. A few months ago he was shot at a third time, the bullet coming through the front door, but missed him. I never knew my husband had enemies, and don't believe he received letters from the Black Hand."

Mariano Zagone lingered for a day and a half but never recovered consciousness. He died in the early morning of May 9.

Detectives understood that Zagone had enemies. The several previous attempts on his life dating back to November 1906 were well documented. But they found no enemies to charge with his murder. Instead, they had several Zagone relatives booked for murder. Joseph and Carmelo Nicolosi and Zagone stepson Joseph Spatafora were brought before Judge Bruggemeyer, charged and held to await the outcome of a coroner's inquiry.

The coroner's jury verdict on May 26 was unhelpful. It stated that Mariano Zagone had been killed by a person unknown. No convincing evidence turned up against the Nicolosis or Joseph Spatafora. The murder case remained a mystery in Chicago. But it was somewhat less mysterious to some federal agents.

Trouble with the boss

Giuseppe Morello, boss of bosses of the American Mafia, was arrested in April, 1903, in connection with Manhattan's infamous Barrel Murder. He also was suspected at that time of running an interstate currency counterfeiting ring.

Flynn
Following his arrest, New York Police and agents of the U.S. Secret Service searched a Chrystie Street apartment where Morello lived with his mistress and their infant daughter. During the search, Agent T.G. Gallagher observed the woman stuffing a package of papers into the baby's clothing. When the papers were removed, they were found to be a collection of correspondence between Morello and leaders of Mafiosi in Chicago and New Orleans.

The letters were examined at the New York office of the Secret Service. Agent in Charge William J. Flynn noted in his daily report of April 17, 1903, that some of the letters contained threatening remarks about a Chicago Mafia leader. The tone of the letters caused Flynn to believe the Chicagoan was already dead, and he reported, "The name Mariano Zagone is mentioned in some of the letters, if he is missing from #97 Milton Ave. Chicago, he may be the murdered man."
(Note: Milton Avenue was renamed Cleveland Avenue. The address referred to was close to the Zagone home on West Oak Street and to the Gault Court saloon. It may have been a Zagone cigar business address.)

A few days later, Flynn received a telegram from Secret Service Chief John Wilkie in Washington, D.C. Wilkie stated that Zagone "is at home, denies ever had any trouble with Morrello."

It is possible that Morello blamed Zagone for allowing law enforcement to learn of a Mafia counterfeiting network in Illinois, New York and New Jersey. The leader of that operation in the Chicago area, Antonio D'Andrea (a former priest and future Mafia boss), was recently  convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to Joliet Penitentiary.

D'Andrea
News released in May 1903 did not help Zagone's position with Morello. At that time it was revealed that the Secret Service learned much about the counterfeiting ring by infiltrating it through Zagone headquarters in the Nicolosi saloon. An undercover operative using the name "Joe Bassini" became friendly with the gangsters and provided information the Secret Service used to bring down D'Andrea. The Zagone gang uncovered evidence of Bassini's treachery but did not succeed in silencing the undercover agent.

At one point, Bassini was confronted by gang members at knifepoint. Threatened with death, he denied assisting law enforcement. Joseph Nicolosi, pretending to be convinced by the denials, stepped in to prevent Bassini's murder. He suggested Bassini and the gangsters patch things up and have a friendly drink. Bassini's drink was drugged. The agent awoke as a captive. Only by repeatedly pleading his innocence and claiming to need a doctor did he eventually win his freedom. On May 20, 1903, he returned with other Secret Service personnel and Chicago detectives and arrested Nicolosi. In announcing that arrest, the Secret Service stated that "the head of the gang of counterfeiters is alleged to be Mariano Zagona."

Zagone was soon arrested. The fact that he was found not guilty of counterfeiting may have convinced Morello that Zagone was secretly aiding law enforcement.

A house divided?

Detectives may have had good reason to suspect Zagone relatives of complicity in his murder.

Rumors surfaced about a Sicilian vendetta. Zagone reportedly stole another man's sweetheart. The man, not a gracious loser, swore to kill Zagone. Police were unable to confirm the rumors, but there may be some connection between them and known Zagone family relationships.

Shortly before marrying Zagone, Bessie was Biaggia Catronia Spatafora. She traveled to the United States in 1898 with her husband Gioacchino Spatafora and five children. The couple had a sixth child after settling in Chicago. The Spataforas appear to have been related by marriage to Rosario Dispenza, a Mafioso from the Ciminna area of Sicily who settled in Chicago in 1899. The Dispenzas and Spataforas lived along Milton Avenue, near Zagone.

About 1901, Gioacchino Spatafora died. The circumstances of his death are uncertain, but old age can be ruled out, as Gioacchino seems to have been in his mid-thirties. Might he have been killed?

Widow Biaggia married Mariano Zagone in October of 1902. Zagone became stepfather to the six Spatafora children and stepfather-in-law to Joseph Nicolosi (married to Laura Spatafora in January 1902).

If Gioacchino Spatafora was a victim of foul play, his kin would have had reason to suspect that the local underworld chief at least had knowledge of the matter. When that chief quickly took Spatafora's widow as his bride, a vendetta could have resulted.

Chicago Tribune 1914
After Zagone

Whatever led to the murder of Zagone, the primary beneficiary of the act seems to have been Rosario Dispenza, banker and saloonkeeper. Dispenza became the new Mafia boss of Chicago's Near North Side Sicilian colony. He also acquired the nickname "Heartless." It is known that Dispenza corresponded with New York-based boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello about Mafia matters. Dispenza's reign was a bloody one. The area near his business on Milton Avenue between West Oak Street and West Hobbie Street became known as "Death Corner."

Dispenza and a business partner, Anthony Puccio, were killed in January 1914, as Anthony D'Andrea brought Chicago's Sicilian underworld under his command.

Bessie Zagone relocated to Rockford, Illinois, for a time, living there with several of her younger children and working as a midwife. She died in Chicago, November 6, 1927, at the age of sixty-one.

(Note: Given the "G" sound of the letter "C" when pronounced by Sicilians, it is possible that Mariano's surname originally was Zaccone or Zarcone. That opens the possibility that he was related to Zarcone Mafiosi, originally from the Bagheria area of Sicily, who settled in Brooklyn, Chicago and Milwaukee. Like Mariano Zagone, a Giovanni Zarcone of Brooklyn had been involved with Giuseppe Morello counterfeiting operations and was murdered after a falling-out with the boss.)

Sources:
  • "Bad money gang raided," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 21, 1903, p. 5.
  • "Black Hand got wealthy Chicagoan," Decatur IL Daily Review, May 8, 1909, p. 1.
  • "Black Hand victim shot," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 8, 1909, p. 1.
  • "Booked on charge of murder," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 12, 1909, p. 4.
  • "Marriage licenses," Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 7, 1902, p. 13.
  • "Repeated attempts to kill result from Italian feud," Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 21, 1906, p. 3.
  • "Would-be assassin shoots man at threshold of home," Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 7, 1906, p. 13.
  • "Zagone dies of his wounds," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 9, 1909, p. 2.
  • "Zagone murder still a mystery," Chicago Daily Tribune, May 27, 1909, p. 6.
  • Cook County IL Deaths Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Cook County IL Marriage Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Report, April 17, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Report, April 20, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Flynn, William J., The Barrel Mystery, New York: James A. McCann Company, 1919, p. 177-179, 206-214.
  • Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths Index, Ancestry.com; Cook County IL Death Index, Ancestry.com.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Aller, arrived New York on June 28, 1899.
  • Passenger manifest of S.S. Trojan Prince, departed Naples on May 24, 1899, arrived New York on May 19, 1899.
  • United States Census of 1900, Illinois, Cook County, North Town Chicago, Ward 23, Enumeration District 700.
  • United States Census of 1920, Illinois, Winnebago County, Rockford City, Ward 5, Enumeration District 201.

20 February 2019

Stroke takes the 'Artichoke King'

Avoided the bullets of mob wars but
suffered disgrace, financial ruin


On this date in 1938...

Ciro "Artichoke King" Terranova, former rackets boss of East Harlem, New York, died February 20, 1938, of natural causes. He was the only son of Angela Piazza to die without a bullet in his body.

Terranova suffered a mild stroke on Tuesday, February 15, 1938, while at his apartment, 338 East 116th Street. A more severe stroke occurred at one o'clock on Thursday morning. Terranova's left side was paralyzed and he could not speak. His wife Teresa (known as "Tessie") called for an ambulance. Terranova was taken to Columbus Hospital.

That hospital's mission for many years had been the treatment of the Italian-American poor. Though he had once been a wealthy and powerful Mafioso in East Harlem, with a palatial pink-colored home at Pelham Manor, Terranova had in recent years lost his riches and his influence.

Hospital officials said the forty-nine-year-old Terranova's condition was serious but gave him a "fair chance" of recovery. Thirty minutes after midnight on Sunday, February 20, he passed away, becoming the only one of four male siblings, all New York Mafiosi, to die of natural causes.

Unlike the send-offs given to many of his contemporaries, Terranova's funeral was inexpensive and fairly small. After a wake at his apartment, the inexpensive, white metal casket containing his remains was taken on Wednesday, February 23, to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, East 115th Street near Pleasant Avenue. (The funeral director told the press that the casket cost $500. In contrast, the bronze casket holding the remains of Terranova's nephew Joseph Catania back in 1931 was said to cost $10,000.) The procession included fifteen cars of mourners and four cars of flowers.

A brief funeral Mass was celebrated by Father Peter Fiore. Angela Piazza, then about ninety, attended, with Terranova's widow and their five children, a small crowd of relatives and old friends. The ceremonies were also observed by a dozen detectives, eight patrol officers and two police radio cars. It was reported that the religious services were conducted while painters actively worked in the church on overhead scaffolding.

After the Mass, Terranova's remains were transported to his gravesite at Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

Cursed clan

Ciro's brother Nicholas "Coco" Terranova was shot to death September 7, 1916, in Brooklyn as he attempted to resolve a Mafia-Camorra War. Brother Vincent Terranova, killed May 8, 1922, at 116th Street near Second Avenue, was an apparent casualty of a gangland conflict between Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila and insurgent gangs in Manhattan.

Half-brother Giuseppe Morello, a former Mafia boss of bosses, was attacked and murdered in his office, 352 East 116th Street, on August 15, 1930, during gangland's Castellammarese War.

All the brothers were born in Corleone, Sicily. Their mother, Angela Piazza, was married to Calogero Morello at the time of Giuseppe Morello's 1867 birth. Calogero died about five years later, and Piazza later married Bernardo Terranova, father of Vincent, Nicholas and Ciro.

(Terranova also lost a nephew, Joseph "Joe Baker" Catania, in the Castellammarese War. Catania was fatally shot February 3, 1931, on the Bronx sidewalk where Crescent Avenue, East 186th Street and Belmont Avenue meet.)



Ciro Terranova took precautions against a death by gangster bullets. He moved himself and his family (which grew to include the daughters of his murdered brother Vincent) to remote Pelham Manor. When traveling in New York City, he made use of an armored limousine.

Rapid decline

Terranova accumulated much of his wealth by monopolizing the distribution of artichokes in the New York area, a racket that gave him the title of "Artichoke King." He also reportedly benefited from a share of Dutch Schultz's numbers racket income.

The start of Terranova's decline is generally placed in December 1929, when a testimonial dinner for Magistrate Albert Vitale of the Tammany's Bronx-based Tepecano Democratic Club was held up by gunmen. Guests were robbed of money and jewelry, and a police officer had his service revolver taken from him. An investigation showed that a number of the dinner guests were politically-connected underworld figures: Ciro Terranova, Joseph Catania and his brother James, John and James Savino, Daniel Iamascia and Paul Marchione. The incident revealed connections between the political establishment and racketeers. Suspicions of Vitale's close relationship with criminals were reinforced when the police officer's service revolver was quickly returned by the robbers.

Mafia turncoat Joseph Valachi revealed that Terranova lost all respect in the underworld following the assassination of "Joe the Boss" Masseria on April 15, 1931. According to Valachi, Terranova was present with other members of the Masseria leadership when Joe the Boss was shot to death in a Coney Island restaurant. Terranova was supposed to drive a number of the gangsters from the scene but appeared so rattled that he could not put the car key into the ignition. Valachi said he heard that the loss of nerve cost Terranova his leadership role.

In the early 1930s, the administration of reform Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia attempted to break up the artichoke monopoly by halting all sales of artichokes in the city. By then, Terranova seems already to have passed the racket on to Joe "Muskie" Castaldo. The leadership of Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania's Mafia organization assumed control of other Mafia rackets in East Harlem and the Bronx and seized the lucrative numbers game from Terranova's old partner Dutch Schultz, who was murdered in 1935.

New York City officials denied Terranova access to the city, placing him under arrest on a charge of vagrancy whenever he crossed the city line from Westchester County.

In May 1937, Terranova stated in court that he had no income, few assets and no job. The Pelham Manor home had been taken by creditors. He continued to live there as a tenant but had no funds to pay overdue rent. A finance company forced him to court after it had been unable to collect for eighteen months on the $542.87 owed for a furnace at the home. Terranova claimed he had been living for some time on borrowed money.

About a month later, reports said Terranova was vacating his home and planning to return to live in New York City.

Full circle

The police made no move to stop him from entering the city at that time. Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine told the press that he permitted Terranova's return because the former gangster "is now criminally and financially impotent."

The tenement Terranova moved into, 338 East 116th Street, and the neighborhood around it had been part of his family history. It was the same building where he and his brother Vincent lived with their families in the opening years of the Prohibition Era and the same building where his former top aide Frank Livorsi still lived.

At forty-nine, Terranova could have reasonably expected to live many more years. Perhaps he was planning to restart his rackets career in the location where it was launched many years earlier. But it is difficult to imagine that Terranova could be in that place and not think of death.

The apartment building sat a few doors to the west of the Ciro, Nicholas and Vincent Terranova pre-Prohibition residence at 350 East 116th Street - the address where Nicholas lived at the time of his 1916 murder. The building just next door to that, at 352, owned by relatives, was the spot where half-brother Giuseppe Morello was killed. Across the street, within view of 338's front entrance, was the spot where Vincent Terranova's blood was spilled in 1922.

Sources:
  • "$5,000 loot taken at Vitale dinner," New York Times, Dec. 9, 1929, p. 14.
  • "10,000 at funeral of 'Joe the Baker,'" New York Times, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 30.
  • "2 die in pistol fight in Brooklyn street," New York Times, Sept. 8, 1916, p. 18.
  • "7 of Vitale guests had police records, Whalen declares," New York Times, Dec. 13, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Armored car owner queried on Marlow," New York Times, July 11, 1929, p. 1.
  • "'Artichoke King' seized and freed," New York Times, Feb. 17, 1935, p. 27.
  • "Artichoke King comes down to his last button," New York Post, May 14, 1937.
  • "Artichoke king dies in decline," Fresno CA Bee, Feb. 22, 1938, p. 12.
  • "Artichoke king dies in poverty," New York Daily News, Feb. 21, 1938, p. 30.
  • "Artichoke king dies penniless," Windsor Ontario Star, Feb. 21, 1938, p. 19.
  • "Artichoke king irked by his latest arrest," New York Times, May 25, 1934, p. 17.
  • "Bail runner shot in street ambush," New York Times, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 11.
  • "Catania dies of wounds," New York Times, Feb. 5, 1931, p. 26.
  • "Ciro Terranova," Boston Globe, Feb. 24, 1938, p. 15.
  • "Ciro Terranova," New York Daily News, Feb. 22, 1938, p. 33.
  • "Ex-Artichoke King broke," New York American, May 14, 1937.
  • "Ex-Artichoke King gives up his palace," New York Daily News, June 23, 1937, p. 30.
  • "Gang glitter absent at Terranova burial," New York Daily News, Feb. 24, 1938, p. 37.
  • "Girl, woman, 4 men shot in battle of two bootleg bands," New York Times, May 9, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Indict Schultz on 3 counts in record time," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 19, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Link Vitale fete to Uale murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 26, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Police guard body of Ciro Terranova," Baltimore Evening Sun, Feb. 23, 1938, p. 29.
  • "Reveal millionaire as real head of new 'numbers' banking combination," New York Age, Aug. 20, 1932, p. 1.
  • "Rich restaurateur shot dead by gang in bootleg quarrel," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 8, 1922, p. 3.
  • "Rise and fall of a racketeer," Hartford CT Courant, Feb. 25, 1938, p. 12.
  • "Seven bandits hold up 50 at dinner to Vitale; escape with thousands of dollars' loot," New York Times, Dec. 8, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Six are indicted as artichoke trust," New York Times, April 8, 1933, p. 1.
  • "Terranova agrees to a receivership," New York Times, May 14, 1937, p. 6.
  • "Terranova appears to talk to police; jailed in hold-up," New York Times, Jan. 17, 1930, p. 1.
  • "Terranova dead; once racket 'king,'" New York Times, Feb. 20, 1938, p. 26.
  • "Terranova seized as vagrant again," New York Times, Aug. 3, 1938, p. 34.
  • "Terranova, paralyzed by stroke, gravely ill," New York Daily News, Feb. 18, 1938, p. 21.
  • "Terranova's exile from city is ended," New York Times, Feb. 18, 1938, p. 32.
  • "Vitale got gun back for cop after holdup," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 23, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Vitale guests ex-convicts, is Whalen claim," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 12, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Vitale guests granted writ; hit '3d degree,'" Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 31, 1929, p.1.
  • Ciro Terranova Declaration of Intention, Supreme Court of New York County, June 9, 1914.
  • Ciro Terranova Petition for Naturalization, 78124, Supreme Court of the State of New York, submitted July 25, 1918.
  • Greene, Roger D., "N.Y. racket smasher, 35, nearly became singer," Oakland CA Tribune, July 26, 1937, p. 5.
  • Joseph Catania Death Certificate, No. 1453, Feb. 4, 1931, Department of Health of the City of New York.
  • New York City Death Index, certificate no. 4180, Feb. 20, 1938.
  • Turcott, Jack, "Ciro is down to last artichoke," New York Daily News, May 14, 1937, p. 22.
  • United States Census of 1920, New York State, New York County, Assembly District 20, Enumeration District 1362.
  • United States Census of 1930, New York State, Westchester County, Village of Pelham Manor, Enumeration District 60-316.
  • Valachi, Joseph, The Real Thing - Second Government: The Expose and Inside Doings of Cosa Nostra, unpublished manuscript, Joseph Valachi Personal Papers, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, 1964.
  • Vincenzo Terranova Petition for Naturalization, 105297, Supreme Court of the State of New York, submitted May 6, 1920.


23 July 2017

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

Investigation by Brooklyn police stalls,
Secret Service links killing to Mafia

(Return to Part 3)

Just a few days into the investigation, Detective Sergeant Vachris decided that there was no workable case against Troia or the four men who lived behind Catania’s shop. He began to explore other possibilities. One of those was provided by Catania’s son-in-law Dominick Tutrone, who spoke about it with a reporter from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper on Saturday morning.

“He was a good man,” said Tutrone. “When my wife [Catania’s oldest daughter] died, he was very kind to me. And, as if he did not have children enough of his own, took my two little ones home too.”

“What is your opinion of this murder?” the reporter asked.

“I do not know what to think. It seems too horrible to contemplate. I cannot think that this man Troia had anything to do with it. It seems impossible to believe that for such a trivial thing as fourteen dollars such a murder would be committed... Italians do not kill their friends for so slight a cause. There is something else behind this. Vengeance, I believe.”

Tutrone indicated that Catania had lived a peaceful life for all of his two decades in Brooklyn. He said, however, that a vendetta could have arisen from some earlier incident in Catania’s home city of Palermo, Sicily.

“These people cherish a wrong a long, long time, years and years,” Tutrone explained. “Of course there is talk, lots of it. But I do not know of anything that he ever did in Sicily that would result in his murder. He was not killed for his money. That is certain, for he had no money. He was not killed by any enemy he had made in this country. I am sure of that. Then the only thing that is left for us to believe is that this thing was done to settle up some old score.”

According to the Eagle, the “lots of talk” to which Tutrone referred was gossip relating to a Palermo offense allegedly committed by Catania against one or two men. One wild rumor specifically charged that he murdered two fellow Sicilians. The Italian quarter of Brooklyn, the newspaper said, was convinced that the families of the injured parties had tracked Catania to Brooklyn and avenged their relatives.

Vincenzo Troia was discharged from custody on July 29. The police admitted that, while there was evidence of some bad blood between Catania and Troia, they had no evidence linking Troia to the Catania killing.

William Flynn
Detective Sergeant Vachris gradually came to support a version of the vendetta theory. Unlike the Palermo murder rumor, the detective’s version left Catania innocent of any wrongdoing. The grocer merely testified against men charged of murder in Palermo. As a result of the testimony, the defendants were convicted and sentenced to twenty-year prison terms. They swore revenge. Fearing for his life, Catania fled to Brooklyn. Over the years, he became comfortable and forgot about the murderers he helped convict. When the two men were released from prison, they learned of Catania’s whereabouts, traveled to Brooklyn and fulfilled their vendetta.

Months later, part of that theory was supported by the arrest on Brooklyn's Washington Street of recent Sicilian immigrant Liborio Laveri. Investigators learned that Giuseppe Catania had been a government witness two decades earlier when Laveri was charged with the kidnapping of a merchant in Termini Imerese, Sicily. Laveri served a long prison sentence. Upon his release, he traveled to the U.S. and reached New York just one month before Catania's murder, becoming a resident of Main and Front Streets in Brooklyn. There was no evidence tying Laveri to the murder, but he was held at the Adams Street Police Station while authorities worked to have him deported as an undesirable alien.

Police interest in the Catania murder diminished over time. The case remained officially unsolved.

However, the murder became a matter of intense interest to Agent William J. Flynn and his fellow Secret Service men of the New York bureau. The Secret Service had been trailing suspected members of a gang of Brooklyn and Manhattan counterfeiters for more than a decade. That gang of immigrant Sicilian Mafiosi was believed to be importing counterfeit currency within shipments of produce and olive oil from Mafia contacts in Sicily. While the Secret Service had managed to shut down some of the smaller operators in the counterfeiting ring, men who had been caught passing phony bills, it had little evidence against the suspected leaders.

Ignazio Lupo
As the police attributed the slaying of Catania to an unknowable team of old-world assassins, Flynn developed a contrary opinion. Believing the Columbia Street shop to be one of a number of New York area groceries used to distribute phony bills, Flynn was certain that Catania was killed because of his habit of drinking and chatting socially with his Brooklyn neighbors. The grocer occasionally drank a bit too much and chatted about things others wished to keep secret, Flynn concluded. Catania’s near-beheading was an act of savage discipline administered by ruthless higher ups in the counterfeiting ring.

When the corpse of a nearly beheaded murder victim turned up in a barrel on a Manhattan street the following spring, Flynn's agents recognized the victim as a man recently in the company of the Mafia counterfeiters they were trailing. Flynn announced that the same gang, led by Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo, was responsible for both the "Barrel murder" and the killing of "Joe the Grocer" Catania.

Flynn's suspicions were confirmed by underworld informants, and New York police noted the Catania murder in Lupo's file. However, neither Mafia boss was ever brought to trial for the killing.

(Return to Part 3)

Sources:
  • Critchley, David, The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia 1891-1931, New York: Routledge, 2009, p. 42.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Reports of April 14, 19, 20, May 1, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Ignazio Lupo criminal record, New York Police Department, Ignazio Lupo Prison File, #2883, Atlanta Federal Prison, NARA.
  • United States Census of 1880, New York, New York County, Enumeration District 42
  • United States Census of 1900, New York, Kings County, Ward 8, Enumeration District 100.
  • "Police board's big detective shake-up," New York Times, Feb. 4, 1900, p. 1.
  • "Patrolmen offer protests," New York Times, Feb. 6, 1900, p. 9.
  • "Band of assassins murdered Catania," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 24, 1902, p. 1.
  • "Boys find a man's body sewn in a sack," New York Times, July 24, 1902.
  • "Brooklyn police suspect an Italian of concealing murdered victim in a sack," New York World, July 24, 1902, p. 3.
  • "No clew to the slayers of the man in the sack," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 25, 1902, p. 2.
  • "Murder due to vengeance it is believed," New York Press, July 25, 1902, p. 3.
  • "Body found sewed in a sack identified," New York Times, July 25, 1902, p. 14.
  • "Arrest in sack murder," New York Tribune, July 25, 1902, p. 2.
  • "Old vendetta in Sicily behind Catania killing," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 26, 1902, p. 18.
  • "Bay Ridge murder mystery," New York Times, July 26, 1902.
  • "No proof that Troyia murdered Catania," New York Times, July 27, 1902. 
  • "May be a victim of a vendetta," New York Tribune, July 27, 1902, p. 3.
  • "No clew to sack murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 29, 1902, p. 16.
  • "Catania fled from vendetta," New York Herald, July 31, 1902, p. 5.
  • "Clew for sack murder found," New York Tribune, July 31, 1902, p. 4.
  • "Trica returned to Sicily," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 5, 1902, p. 5.
  • "Palermo police trying to solve Catania mystery," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 5, 1902, p. 5.
  • "Catania's slayer may yet be caught," Brooklyn Standard Union, Oct. 5, 1902, p. 1.
  • "Unlucky Catania a witness," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 5, 1902, p. 3.
  • "Former brigand caught here," New York Press, Dec. 6, 1902.
  • "May have been killed for spite," New York Tribune, Dec. 6, 1902, p. 4.
  • "Slain man in a barrel; may be a Brooklyn crime," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 14, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Coiners' gang killed him," New York Sun, April 14, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Counterfeiters cut throat of the man whose body was packed in barrel of sawdust," New York Press, April 16, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Eight Sicilians held for barrel murder," New York Times, April 16, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Like the Catania murder," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 17, 1903, p. 15.
  • "Desperate gang held in murder mystery," New York Times, April 17, 1903, p. 3.
  • “Barrel murder mystery deepens,” New York Times, April 20, 1903, p. 3.
  • "Anthony F. Vachris dies; retired peer of detectives," Brooklyn Eagle, Jan. 6, 1944, p. 11.

09 July 2017

Garvan battled radicals and Mafiosi

In Wrongly Executed? I outlined connections between the anarchist movement and the early Mafia in the United States. I drew special attention to government officials - like William Flynn of the U.S. Secret Service and the Bureau of Investigation - who worked against both organizations. Francis P. Garvan was mentioned for his work against political radicals, but I neglected to note the full impact of Garvan's campaign against "enemies" of the U.S. and his encounter with the fledgling Mafia of New York. Here is a more complete telling of Garvan's story.

Francis P. Garvan
Francis Patrick Garvan was from a well-connected and wealthy Connecticut family. He was born June 13, 1875, in East Hartford to Patrick and Mary Carroll Garvan. He graduated from Yale University and received his training in the law at New York University Law School. As a young man, he earned a reputation as a fine lawyer in New York City. He was hired as an assistant district attorney of New York County by interim D.A. Eugene Philbin and continued in the office during the term of D.A. William T. Jerome.

Garvan's field of legal expertise was homicide prosecution, and in that role he came in contact with New York Mafia leader Giuseppe Morello.

Following the "Barrel Murder" of 1903, Garvan presented evidence at a coroner's inquest. Secret Service agents testified that they had been watching the Morello organization, hoping to gain evidence of its counterfeiting activity, and saw barrel murder victim Benedetto Madonia with the Mafia leaders on the evening before his bloody corpse was found crammed into a roadside barrel. NYPD Detective Joseph Petrosino helped to identify the victim by testifying about a Sing Sing Prison interview with Madonia's brother-in-law, convicted Morello gang counterfeiter Giuseppe DePrima. The result of the inquest was the best Garvan could have hoped for. The jury decided that, while the killer of Madonia was not specifically known, seven Mafia suspects acted as accessories in the murder:

We find that [Madonia] came to his death on April 14, 1903, when he was found in a barrel at Avenue D and Eleventh-st., by incised wounds of the throat inflicted on the day aforesaid by some person or persons unknown to the jury. We also find as accessories thereto the following named persons: Tommasso Petto, Guiseppe Fanaro, Giuseppe Morello, Pietro Inzarillo, John Zacconni, Antonio Messina Genova and Vito Laduca.

Eventually, the prosecution focused on Petto, as he was found in possession of a pawn ticket for the victim's gold watch. After some time, Petto was freed because of a lack of evidence that he killed Madonia.

Garvan was highly regarded for his work as a prosecutor of homicide cases, and that field continued to be his focus through the first decade of the Twentieth Century. However, he actually proved far more adept at abusing the rights of those categorized by the U.S. as "enemies."

A. Mitchell Palmer, Francis Garvan, William Flynn (left to right).

Near the conclusion of the Great War, Garvan was appointed to the position of alien property custodian, succeeding A. Mitchel Palmer. In that federal role, he far surpassed Palmer's activities. (The office was intended merely to hold and maintain U.S.-based assets of the nationals of enemy countries. Palmer expanded the scope of his office by seizing U.S.-based properties and trust funds of American women who had married Germans and Austrians.)

Garvan seized thousands of lucrative drug and dye patents and hundreds of trademarks and copyrights held by German companies and distributed them to U.S. companies through the Chemical Foundation he created and personally led. The action broke longstanding German monopolies and launched the American chemical industry. Postwar lawsuits - one was brought by the U.S. Harding Administration - against the Chemical Foundation and federal officials, including Garvan (who was accused of using his position as a public trustee to sell the valuable patents to himself), were largely unsuccessful.

Germany, financially crippled by the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, noted that just one group of the seized and sold patents relating to nitrogen would have been worth approximately $17 million (more than $200 million today). Garvan had set aside only about $250,000 as compensation for all of the patents.

During the postwar "Red Scare," Garvan was installed as the U.S. assistant attorney general for investigations (under Palmer), personally in charge of the Justice Department's war against political radicals. The effort appeared to be the result of a series of bombings directed by anarchists against government figures and leading capitalists. There is some evidence that a war on radicals was in the planning stages before the bombings occurred.

NY Evening World, June 12, 1919.

Garvan oversaw (pre-FBI) Bureau of Investigation head William Flynn and a young John Edgar Hoover (selected to lead the Anti-Radical Division) as they rounded up and quickly deported to Russia hundreds of foreign-born American residents suspected of anarchist or communist beliefs. Behind the scenes, the Bureau conducted an extensive search for an anarchist leader named Giuseppe Sberna, believed to be a mastermind of the bombings. It appeared that Sberna had left the country.

In early November, 1919, agents of the Justice Department and the Bureau of Immigration teamed with local law enforcement to raid offices of the IWW-aligned Union of Russian Workers in cities across the Northeast and Midwest. The raids resulted in many hundreds of arrests. The total was found to include a large number taken by mistake, and the final official tally for the November raids was 211. That was just the beginning of a Garvan campaign to "stamp out the Red menace." Under his guidance, the Justice Department was said to have assembled a list of 60,000 targeted radicals.

Over the following month, additional "undesirable" aliens were added to the group held in custody. Longtime anarchist editors Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman were arrested. In December, the number of detained radicals reached 249. On Dec. 22, the transport ship Buford left New York harbor bound for Russia with the 249 on board. The Buford was nicknamed "the Soviet Ark," and the Justice Department announced plans for additional arks.

New York Times, Jan. 3, 1920.

More extensive raids against political radicals occurred in the opening days of 1920. These targeted members of the Communist Party and Communist Labor Party in thirty-three U.S. cities.

By spring, the Justice Department's persecution of political dissenters was being compared with the secret police of czarist Russia. A group of prominent U.S. legal minds publicly opposed the "lawlessness, cruelty and persecution on a wholesale scale by the government agents." The group found evidence that undercover agents in the Justice Department's employ were infiltrating radical organizations and inciting members toward criminal acts; that searches, arrests and imprisonments were being conducted without warrant; that prisoners were being forced to confess and that detainees were prevented from communicating with friends or attorneys. Additional groups condemned the unconstitutional actions of the Palmer-Garvan Justice Department, and Congressional inquiries were launched.

On Sept. 16, 1920, an anarchist bomb exploded in the center of New York's financial district. Dozens of people were killed, many were injured, and buildings were torn apart by the blast. Garvan was by District Attorney Palmer's side as he began an investigation. Once again, federal agents searched in vain for anarchist leader Giuseppe Sberna.

1920 Wall Street bombing.

Even in the wake of the Wall Street bombing, the anti-radical campaign of the Justice Department continued to lose public support. Warren Harding's election as President in November was its end. Palmer and Garvan were pushed out of their government jobs upon Harding's 1921 inauguration, and Flynn was removed from the Bureau of Investigation several months later. (Hoover was moved up to the position of assistant BOI chief and later became director of the renamed Federal Bureau of Investigation.)

Garvan continued his work with the Chemical Foundation, headquartered on Madison Avenue in New York City. He died at his Park Avenue home on Nov. 7, 1937, at the age of 62. He had lived just long enough to spot the familiar name of "Sberna" in the news.

Charles Sberna, son of the fugitive anarchist leader Giuseppe Sberna and son-in-law of New York Mafia boss Giuseppe Morello, was charged with the murder of a New York City police officer one month earlier.

Partial list of sources:
  • "Seven Italians held," New York Tribune, May 9, 1903, p. 6.
  • “Another arrest in barrel murder case,” New York Times, May 9, 1903, p. 6.
  • "Palmer takes over American trusts," New York Times, Nov. 5, 1918, p. 20.
  • "Restore Ehret property," New York Times, Dec. 20, 1918, p. 8.
  • "Francis P. Garvan promoted to assistant attorney general," New York Times, June 3, 1919, p. 15.
  • "Will deport Reds as alien plotters," New York Times, Nov. 9, 1919, p. 3.
  • "249 Reds sail, exiled to Soviet Russia," New York Times, Dec. 22, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Reds raided in scores of cities," New York Times, Jan. 3, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Sue Palmer and Garvan," New York Times, Jan. 16, 1920, p. 13.
  • "Palmer promises more Soviet Arks," New York Times, Feb. 29, 1920, p. 25.
  • "Lawyers denounce raids on radicals," New York Times, May 28, 1920, p. 6.
  • "Seek owner of truck that carried bomb to Wall Street," New York Times, Sept. 18, 1920, p. 1.
  • "12 lawyers renew attack on Palmer," New York Times, Jan. 19, 1921, p. 28.
  • "President orders return of patents," New York Times, July 2, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Joins German plea and Harding order," New York Times, July 8, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Says Garvan called Metz a 'traitor,'" New York Times, June 28, 1923, p. 19.
  • "Denies politics in patent sales," New York Times, July 4, 1923, p. 15.
  • "Court upholds sale of German patents seized during war," New York Times, Jan. 4, 1924, p. 1.
  • "Dye sales stand; government loses," New York Times, Oct. 12, 1926, p. 4.
  • "Francis P. Garvan, lawyer, dies here," New York Times, Nov. 8, 1937, p. 23.

Read more:


Wrongly Executed?: The Long-forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution

13 May 2017

SoCal boss DiGiorgio is gunned down

Chicago Tribune illustration

Feared California Mafia leader 
killed in Chicago barber chair

Chicago Tribune
May 14, 1922

May 13, 1922: Vito DiGiorgio, the leader of southern California's Mafia, was shot to death in a barbershop at Oak and Larrabee Streets in Chicago.

DiGiorgio, forty-three, was returning from a Mafia meeting in Buffalo, New York, and stopped off in Chicago for a couple of days. He, thirty-five-year-old James Cascio and an unidentified third man visited the barbershop of Salvatore DiBella and John Loiacono, 956 Larrabee Street. The location was in the center of a Sicilian neighborhood in Chicago's Near North Side. DiGiorgio sat down in a barber's chair, while Cascio and the third man busied themselves at a pool table in a rear room.

Just a few minutes later, two gunmen burst into the shop and, without saying a word, shot DiGiorgio in the side of his head and put three bullets into Cascio. Both victims died of their wounds. The gunmen, accompanied by the man who entered the shop with DiGiorgio and Cascio, fled through a rear door.

Police found papers in DiGiorgio's pockets that linked him to an address on Dauphine Street in New Orleans. DiGiorgio had lived in New Orleans for years, managed a grocery business and earned his underworld reputation there before relocating to southern California. He may have returned to his home in the Crescent City after being wounded in an attempt on his life at Los Angeles in the summer of 1921.

New Orleans Daily
Picayune, June 12, 1908

Cascio was said to have Buffalo and New Orleans addresses.

DiGiorgio (image at left) appears to have been closely aligned with New York-based Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila and may have secured his position as southern California boss through D'Aquila's insistence. (D'Aquila inserted his personal representatives into crime family leadership positions in a number of U.S. cities, including Boston and Philadelphia.)

At the time, D'Aquila was attempting to consolidate power by moving against supporters of the former Giuseppe Morello regime in New York and elsewhere. A Los Angeles-area Mafia faction led by Jack Dragna and Salvatore Streva had connections with Morello.

Sources:
  • "The Serio explosion a Black Hand deed," New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 12, 1908, p. 1.
  • "Shot down by mystery assailants," Los Angeles Times, July 18, 1921, p. 13.
  • "Two men killed in Black Hand feud," Logansport IN Pharos-Tribune, May 13, 1922, p. 8.
  • "Double murder in 'Little Italy' baffles police," Chicago Tribune, May 14, 1922, p. 18.
  • Gentile, Nick, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1963.
  • Orleans Parish, Louisiana, Death Records Index, Ancestry.com.
  • United States Census of 1920, Louisiana, Orleans County, Precinct 2, Ward 8, Enumeration District 130.
  • Vito DiGiorgio World War I draft registration card, serial no. 1117, order no. A1450, Div. no. 7, New Orleans, Louisiana, Sept. 12, 1918.
See also:
http://amzn.to/2q08aOg

14 April 2017

The Barrel Murder of 1903


New York Evening World, April 14, 1903.
On this date in 1903 - Agents of the United States Secret Service were called upon to help New York City police identify a corpse found in a barrel on Manhattan's East Eleventh Street near Avenue D. 

Frances Connors was on her way to work at 5:30 in the morning, when she spotted a garment sticking out of a sugar barrel between piles of lumber on the sidewalk in front of the New York Mallet and Handle Company (743 East Eleventh Street). She thought she could make use of the fabric and went to take it from the barrel. As she removed it, she uncovered the dead man inside. The corpse had been folded and crammed into the barrel. The body showed a number of stab wounds. The obvious cause of death was a pair of razor slashes that nearly severed the head from the torso.

The victim.
NY Evening World, April 15, 1903.
Connors' screams caused Special Officer Joseph McCall, on patrol on East Eleventh Street, to rush to the site. He summoned detectives. When the body was removed from the barrel, a slip of paper containing Italian language writing was found. That was sufficient reason for Detective Bureau supervisor "Chesty George" McCluskey to assign the case to Detective Joseph Petrosino, who resolved many criminal matters relating to the immigrant Italian community in New York City. 

Reports of the barrel victim reached William Flynn, chief agent of the New York office of the U.S. Secret Service. Flynn's men, assigned to surveil the counterfeiting gang of Mafia leader Giuseppe Morello, had noticed some odd behavior and a stranger with gang members the night before. Flynn arranged for his men to take a look at the victim and cooperate with the NYPD murder investigation.

The agents recognized the deceased man as the stranger they observed with the Morello Mafia members. Police gathered up known members of Morello's organization, including top Mafiosi Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio Lupo. They were unable to locate Morello adviser Vito Cascio Ferro. They later learned that Cascio Ferro fled back to his native Sicily through New Orleans.

The Morello Mob
NY Evening World, April 16, 1903.
The victim was eventually identified as Buffalo resident Benedetto Madonia, brother-in-law of Giuseppe DePrima, a Morello gangster recently imprisoned for counterfeiting. Authorities believed the New York City Mafiosi lured Madonia to his death because DePrima was judged a traitor. (Secret Service Agent Flynn gave Mafia leaders this mistaken impression through a favorable treatment of DePrima, which he hoped would lead other gang members to cooperate.)

Using the barrel's label and some sawdust and garbage found at the bottom of it, police were able to link the barrel to a Morello gang hangout. They also found that a Mafia suspect known as Petto the Ox was in possession of a pawn ticket for a watch that belonged to the victim. Though certain of the gang's responsibility for Madonia's killing, authorities could not assemble a convincing case. 

Read more about the Barrel Murder on the American Mafia history website:
Sources:
  • "Barrel murder inquest," New York Times, May 8, 1903, p. 7.
  • "Counterfeiters cut throat of the man whose body was packed in barrel of sawdust," New York Press, April 16, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Killed and packed in barrel," New York Sun, April 15, 1903, p. 1. 
  • "Madonia's knowledge cost him his life," Washington D.C. Times, April 21, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Mafia murder victim," New York Tribune, April 15, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Man found in barrel known," New York Sun, April 21, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Man in barrel was tortured, then murdered," New York World, April 14, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Slain man in barrel; may be a Brooklyn crime," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 14, 1903, p. 1.
  • "Twelve suspects held in barrel murder case," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 16, 1903, p. 22. 
  • Carey, Arthur A., Memoirs of a Murder Man, Garden City NY: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1930.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Reports, April 13-22, 25, 29-30, May 1, 7-8, 1903, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 9, National Archives.
  • Flynn, William J., Daily Report, March 21-22, 1904, Department of the Treasury, United States Secret Service Daily Reports, R.G. No. 87, Roll 109, Vol. 11, National Archives. 
  • Flynn, William J., The Barrel Mystery, James A. McCann Company, 1919.
  • Benedetto Madonia Certificate and Record of Death, certificate no. 12640, City of New York, April 14, 1903.
  • Prisoner's Criminal Record, Bureau of Detectives, Police Department of the City of New York, Giuseppe Morello Prison File, inmate no. 2882, Atlanta Federal Prison, National Archives and Records Administration.


12 March 2017

Martyr to duty: Petrosino is slain

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



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

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

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

26 November 2016

'Wrongly Executed?' book now available

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

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

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

Dust jacket for 'Wrongly Executed?' hardcover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 November 2016

Bad-bills bust

On this date in 1909, agents of the United States Secret Service and detectives of the New York Police Department Italian Squad arrested Mafia boss of bosses Giuseppe Morello and a dozen of his aides.

Morello and the others were charged with participating in a counterfeiting ring. Authorities initially suspected that they were importing counterfeit U.S. currency printed by associates in Italy. It was later determined that the phony bills were generated at small printing plant on a farm in Highland, New York.

The arrests concluded a Secret Service investigation of more than half a year. Morello had been watched by the Secret Service for years.

New York Tribune, Nov. 16, 2016
For more about Giuseppe Morello:

29 October 2016

U.S President commutes sentence of Mafia's Lupo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

- Thomas Hunt